Travel tips for the prevention of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) (short version)
How to Avoid MERS
MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. It is a viral respiratory illness most prevalent in Middle Eastern countries. Symptoms include a fever, a cough, other respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, and occasionally diarrhea. Respiratory symptoms can be so severe that the patient may require mechanical intubation. In order to avoid contracting MERS, it is important to travel safely and to practice excellent hygiene, both for yourself and for anyone else who is with you.
Be careful traveling to areas where MERS is prevalent.Countries that have had higher rates of MERS include Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Lebanon, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran. If you live in one of these areas, you will inherently be at higher risk; however, if you live elsewhere and can avoid traveling to these places, you will diminish your risk and hopefully avoid contracting MERS.
- Cases have also been reported in the following countries (in people who traveled to high risk areas in the Middle East): Algeria, Austria, Thailand, South Korea, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Hong Kong, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
- If you are in a high-risk area in the Middle East, avoid contact with camels as they may also transmit the disease (transmission from camels to humans is possible).This includes avoiding eating camel meat, or consuming camel urine (which is considered a medicinal practice in certain areas of the world).
- There are currently no travel restrictions to Middle Eastern countries where MERS is more prevalent; however, if you do travel there, practicing good hygiene and reporting any possible symptoms of MERS to a physician is important.
Wash your hands regularly.This is a general, hygienic precaution that should especially be followed by anyone visiting farms, markets, barns, or places where animals are present. Wash your hands before and after touching animals and do not touch any sick animals.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 – 30 seconds. Be sure to scrub the full surface area of your hand, including between your fingers.
- If warm water and soap are not readily available for you during the day, another option is to carry an alcohol-based sanitizer in your pocket or in your purse.
- While hand washing should always be practiced, it is important to note that MERS is spread by a respiratory droplet, as from someone coughing. It is highly unlikely you would catch MERS from touching a contaminated object, but rather from being in direct contact with fluids from an infected person.
Refrain from touching your face.One of the fastest way to pick up a bug and catch a virus (such as MERS) is to touch your hands to your face — including your eyes, your nose, and/or your mouth — after it has been in contact with the bodily fluids of a sick person. If you have been in contact with a sick person who coughed or sneezed on you and got a droplet on your hand, then putting your hands to your face can transfers the germs and increases your chances of catching the infection.
Safely Caring For An Infected Person
Avoid close personal contact.If you are caring for a loved one with MERS, it is key to avoid cuddling, kissing, and/or sharing cups and utensils. MERS is transmitted via respiratory secretions, so being in close contact with someone puts you at high risk for contracting the virus.
- Refraining from close personal contact until your loved one recovers is your best bet, if you want to avoid becoming infected yourself.
- The person who is sick should avoid contact with others as much as possible. Staying in a separate room and using a separate bathroom is ideal if the house is big enough.
- People other than the caregiver should stay out of the room in which the sick person is staying.
Ask the infected person to cover their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze.Since MERS is spread via respiratory secretions, asking the infected person to cover their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze traps most of the infectious particles and prevents them from spreading through the air to others who may be around. This will certainly help you (and anyone else in the house) to avoid catching MERS.
- The sick person should wear a facemask to prevent transmitting the virus through respiratory secretions. If the sick person cannot wear a facemask, then caregivers should wear them when in the same room.
Recognizing Symptoms and Knowing When to Seek Medical Help
See a physician if you notice signs or symptoms suspicious of MERS.If you have recently been in an area where the MERS virus is prevalent (one of the Middle Eastern countries listed above), or if you have been in close contact caring for an affected individual, you will want to monitor yourself for any signs or symptoms that may be suspicious of MERS.
- These symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as a cough, a fever, respiratory issues such as shortness of breath, and sometimes diarrhea.
- Most people develop symptoms of MERS five or six days after exposure to the virus, but can range from two to 14 days.
Use extra caution if you have other medical conditions.It is especially important to see your doctor if you have symptoms suspicious of MERS alongside other chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, or ongoing respiratory disease. This is because your risk of contracting MERS is higher when you have these conditions.
- In addition, if you have an underlying medical condition and contract MERS, the disease is more likely to be fatal.
Call your doctor ahead of time to let them know that you are worried you may have MERS.This way, your doctor can arrange to see you separately from other patients so that you do not risk passing the infection on to others.
- MERS is an infection that is being tracked by public health so, if you are diagnosed with it, it needs to be reported.
Video: MERS-CoV: preventive messages for the general public
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