Although, after alarming Ebola outbreaks in Africa and measles outbreaks in the United States, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) seems to have disappeared amid international consciousness, it has continued to infect and kill people in the Middle East.
In early 2012, this mysterious virus was discovered in Saudi Arabia and spread to neighboring countries in the region. More than 1,000 people have had confirmed cases, more than 300 of whom have died due to complications related to the disease. Genetically, the virus belongs to the coronavirus family, and its structure is similar to that of the SARS virus that caused an epidemic in China and Southeast Asia earlier this decade.
Many critical factors and elements of the disease are currently unknown. Currently, researchers believe that this disease is zoonous, which means that the natural source is a certain species of animals; however, there are currently only theories and the exact source has not been established. Due to the wide range of symptoms and the different quality of documentation, the exact course of the disease has not been fully understood. The average time from onset of the disease to death is 12 days, and it is not clear why some patients survive and others do not. Patients have a wide range of symptoms associated with respiratory diseases, and DNA comparisons of the virus are often required to confirm a diagnosis.
The virus spreads through personal contact with infected people. All cases have been somehow related to travel or life in the Middle East, and more research is needed to better understand exactly how the disease is transmitted from person to animal and from person to person.
People who had contact with camels (the MERS-CoV virus was found in camels) who traveled to the Middle East and developed symptoms during the 14-day journey, as well as caregivers who were treating patients with MERS virus. Currently, researchers from WHO and the United Nations have not been able to determine the origin of disease clusters and are concerned about ongoing transmission. Currently, there is no cure for this disease, and all treatment options are used to control the symptoms of the disease.
There are also fears that the number of cases is actually much higher than reported. Civil unrest, conflict and poor health reporting infrastructure in many parts of the Middle East may have contributed to the unreported number of cases. The actual number of cases and related deaths may be significantly higher than currently anticipated.
As health care providers with a global patient base, you need to familiarize themselves with and prepare for the MERS virus. This requires constant training and good planning for the future to help organizations prepare for a possible battle with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have already published updated articles and guidelines for health professionals and individuals regarding the virus. In addition, there are several nurses on the Internet who have organized evidence-based nursing courses to treat patients with MERS. The novelty of the virus is no excuse for insufficient preparation – in today’s world of global travel and trade, the possibility of multiple cases in the United States is very real and very timely.