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Several cases of MERS reported in U.S.

May 21, 2014

The headlines read “MERS virus spreads for 1st time in U.S.” But, while it might sound somewhat dramatic, Dr. Sarah Haessler of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center says, “There is no cause for panic.”

The Baystate physician echoes the sentiments of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which calls the MERS situation in the U.S. "very low risk to the general public in this country." However, they do recognize the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases globally, including in the U.S.

How MERS has spread

MERS – known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. Health officials believe it is only spread from person to person with close contact. Dr. Haessler noted that the U.S. cases were the result of being imported into the country by travelers returning from the Middle East. The first two cases of MERS in the U.S. were confirmed in travelers from Saudi Arabia. The third person developed antibodies to the virus after he had contact with the first traveler, but never developed any symptoms.

"It’s still very early in the investigation. MERS was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, and like the SARS virus in 2003, it is going to take some time to determine where the virus came from, and what its impact will be," Dr. Haessler said.

"We’re just being cautious and we want people to be educated about MERS and understand that they are in no immediate danger," she added.

Learn more about MERS from the CDC.