Airmen from Joint Base San Antonio leave for deployment to Kuwait, Qatar and additional locations in Southwest Asia in this 2011 photo. Air Force major commands have been warned to watch for symptoms of a new deadly virus spreading from the Middle East. (Robbin Cresswell / Air Force)
A deadly virus that has begun to creep from the Middle East into Europe has gotten the attention of the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General.
The virus, first identified in September by the Geneva, Switzerland-based World Health Organization, is called the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Of the 54 laboratory-confirmed cases through June 4, there have been 30 deaths, with 39 of the cases and 24 deaths coming from Saudi Arabia.
“The Air Force Public Health Branch is aware of the disease while working with the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Biosurveillance Division to monitor the situation closely,” Jonathon Stock, a spokesman for the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, said May 6. “Our major command health officers have been notified earlier this week and encouraged to follow updates on the situation.”
He added there are no reported cases among Department of Defense employees or the military.
The virus most recently surfaced in Italy, increasing concerns about its spread from the Middle East. In those cases, a 2-year-old girl and a 42-year-old woman were listed in stable condition June 3, after being exposed to a man who developed symptoms after traveling in Jordan.
So, with a better than 50 percent death rate, here’s five things airmen should know about MERS-CoV:
How does it develop?
Coronaviruses include everything from the common cold to the severe acute respiratory syndrome that in 2003 became a global epidemic. This new virus does not come from the same coronavirus that caused SARS. The virus may begin as a cold, but can spiral downward into what the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta calls a severe acute respiratory infection, or SARI. There is about a 10- to 12-day incubation period, so anyone who has traveled to the Middle East prior to showing symptoms should be tested for MERS-CoV, the CDC advises.
It may start off as a cold, but develop a cough, fever of 100.4 or higher and mimic pneumonialike symptoms, such as respiratory distress and even kidney failure. Those who already suffer from either diabetes, renal failure or coronary artery disease may be more susceptible. Those who are autoimmune-compromised also may have additional symptoms, such as diarrhea.
How it's treated
The best treatment is early detection. At this time, there are no vaccines available to target the MERS-CoV virus. But the CDC indicated using intravenous fluids, oxygen and antibiotics if a secondary infection is noted; this has kept the death rates down with the latest cases.
Both WHO and CDC offer the typical suggestions on how to prevent picking up any illness, including MERS-CoV, while traveling. Wash hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. If someone appears sick, stay away. If you develop symptoms, seek treatment.
Should travel to the Middle East be canceled?
No. Neither WHO nor the CDC have issued warnings not to travel to the Middle East based on this outbreak. They do suggest making sure vaccinations and immunizations are up to date at least four weeks before traveling to the Middle East. For more information, visit the CDC’s “Travelers’ Health” website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/.