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Hospitals on Watch for MERS, Plan for Emergencies

The last pandemic occurred in 2009, with the H1N1 influenza virus. The World Health Organization says MERS is a long way from becoming a pandemic. Most cases have been in Saudi Arabia, among people with close contact with MERS patients or with camels who have the disease.
A virus, however, can change at any time, so health officials like Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck say there is need for concern.
Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck: "It's a new virus. It has a very high death rate, but we need to learn more about how easily it's transmitted, and what are some of the signs and symptoms that help people present.”
Many hospitals already have plans to prevent the virus from spreading. At The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, it's Dr. Gabe Kelen's responsibility to make sure the plan covers all of the 46,000 people at the university Johns Hopkins’ clinics and medical centers.
Dr. Gabe Kelen: “I’m not that concerned yet, however, our level of preparation is we want to stay ahead of the curve. That should this happen; we’re not playing catch-up.”
This is not just for MERS, but for any contagious disease.
Dr. Gabe Kelen: "Whenever anyone comes into the emergency department with an influenza-like illness, we already have a protocol to screen them and to test them and if we believe that they may have a serious infection, they get isolated, they get a mask. Anyone that goes in after that to deal with that patient has certain precautions.”
Doctors or even the cleaning people, might have to wear gowns, gloves and special masks.
A few years ago during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, hospitals set up special clinics, outside of the emergency rooms to diagnose patients suspected of having the flu. This practice could be reinstated to prevent the spread of a virus.
Dr. Gabe Kelen: “The more often it [a virus] gets transmitted, the more the virus replicates. The more the virus replicates and the more in different hosts, the more likely its genetic makeup may change.”
After the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, more than a decade ago, the world learned that an infectious disease anywhere is a health challenge everywhere, largely because of air travel. Countries learned they had to share information about diseases in order to control them.
In October, Saudi Arabia will host millions of Muslim for religious pilgrims. Health officials the world over will be carefully watching. Carol Pearson, VOA News.

Source: VOA

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