Official: Deadly MERS virus could come to St. Louis

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) -A local public health official says they do expect the MERS virus to come to the St. Louis region.

Hospitals are gearing up for the possibility of an outbreak of the deadly virus after an Illinois man contracted MERS in the United States.

Doctors and public health officials are taking this seriously.

Hospitals are reviewing their response plans internally and getting ready for the potential to hold patients in isolation.

"I do expect to eventually see cases here, but hopefully they will just be a handful and it will be travel related," St. Louis City Health Director Pam Walker said.

"We've only got three cases in the United States, so that's not a time to panic, but it's a time to prepare," she said.

The most recent case is the first to be contracted in the United States.

An Illinois man became infected from an Indiana health care worker, who caught the virus in Saudi Arabia.

Doctors say the Illinois man is from the Chicago area, is infected, but not infectious and showing no symptoms.

The man supposedly caught MERS after shaking the healthcare worker's hand.

"It does lead to the hypothesis that you can actually get it in some cases easier than we thought so that is of concern," Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, with the Illinois Public Health Department.

MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is known to be an airborne virus.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath and cough.

"The most important thing to remember is that these symptoms are significant in patients who have recently traveled to the Arabian Peninsula," said Infectious Disease Physician Shephali Wulff with SSM Healthcare.

Dr. Wulff says if you contract MERS, there's no treatment.

"It's a virus so it can't be treated with antibiotics, it's just supportive care, they would be placed in ICU setting, be on a breathing machine," Dr. Wulff said.

Walker says all St. Louis hospitals are on high alert, and reviewing their isolation plans and getting ready to provide constant communication with local and national officials.

"We will be isolating close contacts in their home to make sure that we don't lose control of this virus," Walker said.

She says if you are not in the medical field, you can't do much to prepare.

If you are traveling to the Middle East, there are travel advisories posted by the CDC, Centers for Disease Control. You can find them here:

Doctors say it can take up 14 days to show any symptoms, and 20 percent of patients show no symptoms at all.

Worldwide, there have been 572 confirmed cases in 15 countries. About 173 people have died.

Officials have posted warnings in nearly a dozen airports in the United States, reminding people to be alert of sick passengers.


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