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State College Medical Community Keeping Watch For New Viral Illness Linked to Middle East

by on May 07, 2014 6:20 AM

Due to the presence of a large international community in the State College area, local medical experts are monitoring a dangerous new virus that was first reported in the Middle East.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS was recently detected in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Concern among the world health community has recently increased as the illness has spread. Most people who have been confirmed to have the infection developed a severe acute respiratory illness. Symptoms included fever, cough and shortness of breath. Roughly 30-percent of patients died.

Last week, authorities confirmed a patient at an Indiana hospital contracted the virus while traveling in Saudi Arabia.

"We've anticipated MERS reaching the U.S., and we've prepared for and are taking swift action," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "We're doing everything possible with hospital, local, and state health officials to find people who may have had contact with this person so they can be evaluated as appropriate. This case reminds us that we are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. We can break the chain of transmission in this case through focused efforts here and abroad."

Marlene Stetson, an infection control nurse at the Mount Nittany Medical Center, says it is important for medical professionals to recognize the State College area as a global community. With international Penn State employees and students as well as residents who travel worldwide, Stetson says local doctors and nurses continue to monitor developments regarding MERS.

"Our policies and procedures, staff training and education, and equipment and supplies are designed to account for unanticipated illnesses and medical adversities, including infectious diseases like MERS," she says. "For example, we have rooms at Mount Nittany Medical Center that are outfitted with special ventilation systems for those who require airborne precautions. "

In addition to Saudi Arabia, countries with confirmed cases of MERS include United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Kuwait. In addition to the United States, countries with travel-associated cases includes the United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, Italy and Malaysia,

"At this point, awareness is key," says Stetson. "As researchers and health professionals work to better understand the virus, it's important to be aware of any developing symptoms if you have visited the six confirmed countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula, or if you have been in close contact with individuals who have visited these areas and have the identified symptoms."

Should MERS evolve in the United States, Stetson says Mount Nittany Health is prepared to implement additional screening tools to identify and manage infected patients.

Mount Nittany Health also offers a unique Traveler's Health Center, which provides medical resources to ensure healthy travel, which helps to advise what immunizations and precautions are necessary for traveling.

For more information about MERS, click HERE.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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