Humboldt General Hospital Offers Information About Emerging Virus

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Since that time, the viral respiratory illness has held the world's attention as it has spread to neighboring countries and, in a few instances, to Europe, Asia and now two confirmed cases in the United States.

At least 315 people worldwide have died from the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus represents a very low risk to residents of the United States.

Still, Humboldt General Hospital Infection Control Preventionist Virginia Tanner said the hospital has fielded some questions from local residents who want to know more about the disease and its treatment, if it were to present locally.

"So we wanted to let our community know that we are aware of the illness, its symptoms, and current locations," she said.

"But we also want our public to know that due to it being a newly emerging infectious agent, there is more to learn and discover about it."

MERS causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia; however, Tanner said the full spectrum of the illness and its clinical course are not fully known at this time.

Tanner said the virus has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as those caring for or living with an infected person.

"However, there is currently no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings," she said, "so more study needs to be done to further understand the virus and develop prevention and control measures to limit transmission."

Symptoms of the MERS-CoV infection include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting and runny nose.

However, Tanner said individuals are not considered at risk for the infection unless they have had "close contact" with someone who is being evaluated for MERS-CoV.

Those who believe they may have been exposed to the virus should call their doctor or hospital before visiting.

"Doing this will allow the medical office to prepare for your arrival," said Tanner, "and to help prevent other people from getting exposed or infected."

Tanner said there is currently no specific treatment for MERS-CoV infection available; instead, healthcare providers are instructed to manage a patient's presenting symptoms.

She said while the virus has a definite "scare factor," the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to investigate the infection and release newly updated information.

"That information will be the most accurate," said Tanner, "so we want to encourage people to visit as they have questions and need updated information."