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Is MERS flying into New York City?

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The Centers for Disease Control released a report May 14 with the latest information about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS or MERS Co-V). One item was an estimate of the number of travelers expected to arrive in the United States in May and June from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). New York City will be the point of entry for 30,680 people from the MERS affected region. No other city in the U.S. or Canada approaches this number of potential MERS patients.

The analysis suggests that about 100,000 visitors from the countries experiencing the MERS outbreak will arrive in just five cities in those two months. New York ranks first, followed by Washington, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago. To the north, Toronto may expect nearly 15,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The CDC provides the demographic data of MERS patients through May 12, as shared by the World Health Organization. The report looked at 536 lab confirmed MERS cases and 145 related deaths. Men accounted for 65 percent of all cases. Medical and health care professionals make up 19 percent of those testing positive.

Severe respiratory illness occurred in 62 percent of the cases, 394 patients. Nearly all of those patients were hospitalized. There were 110 patients who were asymptomatic despite testing positive for MERS Co-V. The remainder had an illness that did not require hospitalization.

As of this report, locally acquired MERS infections have been diagnosed in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, and Yemen. Eight more countries, including the United States, have reported imported cases of the illness. The first MERS patient arrived in the United States through Chicago. The second MERS patient arrived through Boston.

The CDC has increased its travel guidance to a Level Two alert - Practice Enhanced Precautions. Along with this heightened alert, the agency is providing specific guidance for health care workers who may be traveling to the Arabian Peninsula to provide medical services. The CDC has also provided guidance to airline crews flying from the region about identifying and reporting sick passengers flying to the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control expect to see additional imported cases of MERS. With 75 percent of all travelers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE arriving in New York City, and four other cities, the illness may appear at any time. Medical personnel and hospital staffs need to be increasingly aware of the signs and symptoms to allow for the prompt detection and isolation of any MERS patients.

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