Science

Scientists suggest longer quarantine to stop deadly MERS virus

By Randell Suba , May 30, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

MERS-Cov or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus causes respiratory infections in humans. So far, the World Health Organization has documented 49 cases and 27 deaths since it began monitoring the spread on September 12. A team of French scientists think that longer quarantines may stop the spread of the SARS-like virus. 

"A threat to the entire world," WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan described the MERS virus. "It is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself," she added. 

A study publsihed in The Lancet on Wednesday, looked into two cases of MERS and found out that patients infected with the virus should be isolated no less than 12 days to avoid spreading the deadly virus.

The work of the French doctors documented how the first patient contracted the virus after visiting Dubai in April. The second patient examined by the team lives in France and did not travel but shared a room with the first patient and may have caught the MERS virus during that period.

"The incubation period was estimated at 9 -12 days for the second case. No secondary transmission was documented in hospital staff despite the absence of specific protective measures before the diagnosis of MERS-CoV was suspected. Patient 1 died on May 28, due to refractory multiple organ failure," the findings of the study stated.

"Patients with respiratory symptoms returning from the Middle East or exposed to a confirmed case should be isolated and investigated for MERS-CoV with lower respiratory tract sample analysis and an assumed

incubation period of 12 days. Immunosuppression should also be taken into account as a risk factor," the authors interpreted their findings.

Experts have previously observed the spread among people after close contact with infected patients. Clusters of infections were documented in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Britain. Scientists do not know how humans catch the virus but suspect that it may come from animals like camels or bats.

The bottom line of the study funded by the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance and other agencies is that patients who might be infected with MERS should be isolated or quarantined for a longer period so health professionals can confirm if they are carrying the respiratory virus or not.

The control measures for the isolation include wearing a gown, glove, special mask, and proper handwashing.

The MERS is not SARS. The former seems to be less transmissible than the latter. The French scientists noted that if the MERS evolves further, it can become a very dangerous virus and be highly transmissible.

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