May 13, 2014

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS CoV) update

On May 2, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first case of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the United States. This case was acquired while the person was working in a healthcare facility in Saudi Arabia. A second case was confirmed earlier this week. The MERS-CoV outbreak has been centered in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, and a record number of cases were reported in April 2014, indicating an increase in transmission. MERS-CoV is a virus similar to the SARS coronavirus and can cause severe morbidity and mortality. In light of these reports, we remind all VUMC faculty and staff about important ways to minimize the spread of this infection:

• Patient Screening: VUMC healthcare providers should evaluate all VUMC patients for potential MERS-CoV infection by assessing for the following signs/symptoms upon their arrival to our facilities:
Fever with symptoms of respiratory illness (e.g. cough or shortness of breath)
AND
A) History of travel within 14 days of symptom onset from
countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula
OR
B ) Close contact with a symptomatic recent traveler from this area
who also has fever and an acute respiratory illness

Patients who respond “yes” to these questions should be provided a surgical mask that they should wear immediately and be placed in an airborne isolation room. The Department of Infection Prevention should also be contacted at 835-1205 (24/7) immediately.

• Travel Precautions: Travelers to the affected areas should know that the risk of contracting MERS-CoV remains very low. Faculty and staff going to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula to provide health care services should practice CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected cases. Travelers who are going to the area for other reasons are advised to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

While in the affected area for any reason, monitor your own health closely. Travelers should carry a thermometer and have a plan for accessing medical care if necessary. Following travel to the Arabian Peninsula, monitor your temperature twice a day for 14 days. If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness within 14 days after returning from an affected area, faculty and staff should contact the Occupational Health Clinic for further evaluation while students should contact Student Health.

While the risk of MERS-CoV transmission remains very low in the United States, we must remain vigilant and cautious. For questions or additional information, please contact the VUMC Department of Infection Prevention at 936-0725 or via pager 835-1205.