Israel Prepping Its Health System in Case of MERS Outbreak

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Workers wearing protective gears, spray antiseptic solution as a precaution against the spread of MERS virus at the Sejong Culture Center in Seoul, South Korea, June 16, 2015.Credit: AP

Israel’s Health Ministry is to publish guidelines Wednesday to the healthcare system on how to identify and treat Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The guidelines are similar to those in place with regard to SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which is related to MERS, but will include particular references to South Korea, where there has been a MERS outbreak.

According to the guidelines, a person who has a fever of over 38 degrees Celsius, has respiratory difficulties and has been in a South Korean hospital or has come into contact with a proven MERS patient, should be placed immediately in isolation.

Both MERS and SARS manifest themselves as fever and a cough for a number of days that develops into pneumonia.

The Health Ministry does not intend at the moment to station representatives at airports, as was done in the case of the Ebola outbreak. However, the ministry might ask the Israel Airports Authority to place signs at the airports regarding MERS.

No special drills are planned at this point for hospitals.

According Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of the ministry’s public health department, over the past two years a number of people in Israel were suspected of possible infection with MERS, but they were found not to have it, and so the system is ready to handle such cases.

“We are following the spread of the virus and have recently received questions from hospitals on how to respond, and we thought it right to issue orderly guidelines. The virus is common mainly in the Arabian Peninsula and if it reaches Israel we expect it to come mainly from there and less from South Korea. In any case, Israelis who are going to South Korea at this time are briefed on this matter as well, among other things with regard to hygiene and avoiding contact with people who have the virus,” Grotto said.

According to Grotto, at this time there is no concern over the spread of the virus to Israel.

The World Health Organization has not yet recommended special action by people entering and leaving South Korea. However, experts have begun to criticize the way Seoul is handing the outbreak, due to the fact that none of the hospitals there with patients who contracted MERS were warned of the possibility that the virus was MERS.

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