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Middle East respiratory syndrome cases reach 177

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A Jan. 3 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the latest patient sickened by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The patient is a health care worker from the United Arab Emirates with direct contact with a previously diagnosed MERS-CoV patient. The 33 year old man is hospitalized in critical condition, and suffers from several preexisting medical conditions.

WHO has identified 177 confirmed cases of illness from this novel coronavirus since it was first identified in Sept. 2012. There have been 74 deaths. The majority of the cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia and the countries on the northeastern portion of the Arabian peninsula.

Patient 177 is not the first healthcare worker to have contracted the viral illness from a patient. In Dec. 2013, in two different instances, three female healthcare workers tested positive for MERS-CoV, but had no symptoms of an illness. Both WHO and the Centers for Disease Control strongly urge the use of universal precautions and personal protective equipment when treating patients suspected of having Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus illnesses.

The spread of MERS-CoV to healthcare workers is similar to infections from the SARS coronavirus in 2003. Canadian medical personnel experienced a high rate of infection, and studies after the end of the outbreak discovered that there was a general lack of training in the proper use of personnel protective equipment. In particular, personnel were donning gear in an area already contaminated by the virus. The personnel were also removing the contaminated gear in the wrong sequence, exposing them to the virus rather than protecting them.

MERS-CoV is spreading very slowly. Virtually all cases can be traced to exposure to a previously identified patient, either in the family setting or in the hospital. Contracting an illness requires close, personal contact with an infected individual.

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