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Ist US case of MERS virus

May 3, 2014

This morning on GMA I discussed the breaking health news that we now have the first documented case of the MERS virus in the US, as released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and is a relatively new virus from the corona-virus family. MERS was first documented only in 2012, and there is still much that is not known about the virus. Here's what we do know at this time: It likely started in bats, and appears to 'live' in camels, but can now be spread human to human. How contagious it is is not known but it appears NOT to be highly contagious. It DOES seem to be lethal in approximately 1 in 3 cases (based on the current number of documented cases and the number of confirmed deaths due to MERS). The symptoms include severe cough, shortness of breath and fever; there is no current vaccine against MERS and no current anti-viral medication treatment. Therapy is supportive (oxygen, managing possible complications of MERS such as kidney failure, etc.) Right now, the patient #1 in the US is known to have taken a flight from Saudi Arabia, to London, then London to Chicago, and then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana, where he is currently hospitalized and in isolation. The CDC will be contacting individuals on his flight and bus out of precaution, and to track any possible spread of MERS, but feels the general risk to population who may have been near this patient is low. People at greatest risk of death from MERS are those who are elderly or immune suppressed. Why we are seeing these types of new viruses emerging remains a mystery. Theories include: greater global travel/international community, climate change, virus evolution and mutation, changes in human/animal proximity. Medical detectives from the CDC and WHO are working diligently on learning more about MERS.

I'm interested in your thoughts, concerns, fears, questions about MERS... post your well-intentioned comments below, watch my segment on MERS tonite on #ABCWorldNews with #DavidMuir tonite.

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Jennifer Ashton MD