Chicago Health | Homepage
MERS: What Is It and What It Means for the U.S.

MERS: What Is It and What It Means for the U.S.

By Carroll Cole

Earlier this month, an unfamiliar virus with a name fit for a Hollywood screenplay about a disease-driven apocalypse landed on American shores. The virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS first appeared in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2012. Since then, it has infected more than 500 people and spread to 16 countries. It kills about 30 percent of those it infects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In less than two weeks, this little-known virus had infected two unrelated healthcare workers—the first in Indiana and the second in Florida. The glowing similarity between cases is that both of the infected patients had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia. While both men are in stable condition, a third man—from Illinois—has been infected, however, he shows no signs of illness, officials said late last week. The Illinois man became infected after shaking hands with the infected Indiana man.

MERS is marked by flu-like symptoms and affects the respiratory tract making fever, cough and shortness of breath all trademark signs. This means it can be difficult distinguishing the flu from MERS, according to John P. Salerno, MD, a New York-based alternative medicine doctor and head of The Salerno Center.

“If you’re in the area that’s endemic for MERS, like traveling to Saudi Arabia, I would assume any upper respiratory symptom is MERS and be overly cautious,” says Salerno. In that case, he recommends wearing a mask and frequent hand washing.

“We don’t know a lot about this virus,” says Jessica Ridgway, MD, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Department of Medicine. “We really don’t how it spreads. We don’t know for sure that you’re not contagious [if you’re symptom-free].” However, the fact that the virus has passed between people here in the U.S. is “not that surprising,” she says. She also stresses that the medical community is “learning more and more.”

The CDC says that the virus spreads “through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person,” but it is not known exactly how it is spread.

However, “if you haven’t been to the Middle East or been in contact with someone who has MERS, then you’re really not at risk,” Ridgway says. “There has not been sustained transmission of MERS in other developed countries where it’s been [reported]. It’s mostly from travelers.”

Salerno says, “If the genetic structure of the virus were to mutate, then it may become a concern. But I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”

Scientists know that camels carry MERS, and they are looking at bats as a possible carrier, as well. Right now, treatment for the virus involves supportive care including supplemental oxygen and anti-viral medicines. Salerno suggests people at risk protect themselves naturally by sticking to a diet low in refined sugars, a healthy sleep schedule, and using natural anti-viral medicines, such as olive leaf, grapefruit extract and vitamin C.

There is no reason to stress at this point, Salerno and Ridgway agree. “There are always new viruses, new infections, that are going to come about. There are often new flu strains each year,” Ridgway says. “It’s sort of the way the world works in some ways, and it will keep happening. But we are equipped and have a lot of great public health agencies and smart people working to control the spread of the virus to best minimize the impact.

“The big message is that people don’t need to be worried about contracting MERS,” she says.


Published May 2014

Similar Articles

Healing Society’s Soul

Healing Society’s Soul

Physicians sound the alarm for treating gun violence as a public health epidemic By Katie Scarlett Brandt Photo

Integrative Cancer Treatment

Integrative Cancer Treatment

From nutritional therapy to off-label drugs, holistic approaches help patients heal By Kathleen Vyn In this age

Shoot for the Moon

Shoot for the Moon

Cancer initiative spurs research—and already advancements are happening By Laura Drucker In the 1960s, America channeled its

A  Family  Affair

A Family Affair

Battling pediatric cancer By Katie Scarlett Brandt Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo started a tradition in

Cancer Survivorship

Cancer Survivorship

When treatment ends, the healing begins By Julie A. Jacob After Carolyn Nugent was diagnosed with stage

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

April 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
March 26, 2017 March 27, 2017 March 28, 2017 March 29, 2017 March 30, 2017 March 31, 2017 April 1, 2017
April 2, 2017 April 3, 2017 April 4, 2017 April 5, 2017 April 6, 2017 April 7, 2017 April 8, 2017
April 9, 2017 April 10, 2017 April 11, 2017 April 12, 2017 April 13, 2017 April 14, 2017 April 15, 2017
April 16, 2017 April 17, 2017 April 18, 2017 April 19, 2017 April 20, 2017 April 21, 2017 April 22, 2017
April 23, 2017 April 24, 2017 April 25, 2017 April 26, 2017 April 27, 2017 April 28, 2017 April 29, 2017
April 30, 2017 May 1, 2017 May 2, 2017 May 3, 2017 May 4, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6, 2017


Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform