Information provided by AXA Assistance Group
The emergence of the viral illness caused by the novel Coronavirus, MERS-CoV that first appeared in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012, is attracting increased attention as a spike in cases has recently been reported in South Korea.
On May 20, a case of MERS was reported in Korea of a man who had traveled from the Middle East. Since then, a total of 40 cases and 4 deaths have been reported involving 6 hospitals. All cases have in some way been linked to primary, secondary and in a few cases tertiary contact with hospital cases. No confirmed cases appear to have spread among the general public without such contact history. Six hospitals in the Seoul area have been affected. Other than St. Mary’s hospital, the government has not released the name of the affected hospitals. A mission with the WHO has been launched to aggressively deal with the outbreak for which over 1000 traceable contacts have been quarantined.
MERS-CoV (MERS) presentation can vary from being asymptomatic to a severe respiratory illness characterized by fever, cough and shortness of breath. It appears to be spread mainly among close contacts such as family and healthcare workers. The origin of the MERS infection is the Middle East and the initial sources are likely to be camels and camel meat. Though approximately 30% of clinically recognized patients have died, the infection can be very mild in some and substantial number of infected patients has had positive tests, but was asymptomatic. The virus is felt not to be transmitted easily and requires close contact with infected individuals.
Signs and symptoms:
Suspicion of MERS infection should be considered in patients with fever and cough, shortness of breath and/or diarrhea in individuals who have been in contact with patients suspect of having MERS or in healthcare facilities where such patients have been treated.
Treatment for the disease remains mainly supportive, including ventilatory support as needed. Though various medications have been tried, there is no specific medication that has proven effective. Medical care involves meticulous isolation precautions to prevent spread among healthcare workers and other contacts.
Notwithstanding the potential severity of the illness, cases remain sporadic and do not appear to be affecting the general or traveling public to a significant degree. Most of the cases in Korea have been among healthcare workers or patients who were in close proximity of MERS patients in the affected hospitals.
Risk of infection
The risk of infection among travelers to Korea is considered very low, especially if travelers follow prudent hygiene precautions (see below). There are no specific restrictions on travel that are advised at this time.
While global health authorities are extremely vigilant about the potential spread of MERS, there is no reason to suspect that sporadic cases reported in non-Middle-Eastern countries or Korea pose an immediate risk of widespread transmission. So far these cases remain isolated. If an individual presents with the described symptoms, it is prudent to ask if the patient has recently traveled to Korea or the Middle
East and been exposed to a health care facility.
The following preventive hygiene measures are recommended by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and are consistent with global health authorities:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Be sure you are up-to-date with all of your shots, and if possible, see your health care provider at least 4–6 weeks before travel to get any additional shots.
- If you are sick:
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid contact with other people to keep from infecting them.
- See a doctor if you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in or near Korea ot the Arabian Peninsula. You should tell the doctor about your recent travel.
In addition, further recommendations may include:
- Avoid crowds, healthcare facilities and individuals with cough in Korea.
- Avoid camels or markets where camel meat is sold.