WASHINGTON, June 5, 2014 - The Defense Department is closely monitoring the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome which has infected more than 800 people worldwide, Air Force Col. Carol Fisher, DOD's director of Public Health, said today.
Those who catch the virus, first identified in 2012, exhibit flu-like symptoms -- fever, cough and shortness of breath.
During an interview with American Forces Press Service, Fisher said the current risk of service members contracting the virus is fairly low. "But in an age of travel around the world in 24 hours, there is always a danger," she said.
There are two confirmed cases of MERS in the United States -- in Indiana and Florida. Both patients contracted the virus in Saudi Arabia.
The hotspot for the disease is the Arabian Peninsula and some neighboring countries --, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon. Other areas of concern are Iran, Syria, Iraq, Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
There are thousands of American service members in this region with many others transiting each day. Fisher said the best defense, "is to wash your hands often using soap and water, or, if that is not available an alcohol-based hand sanitizer."
There is growing medical evidence that the virus originated in camels. Fisher also advised service members to "stay away from animals, especially sick animals."
There is also a danger of human-to-human transmission especially between patients and health-care practitioners, she said.
It takes some time for MERS symptoms to show up, so the colonel recommended that "if you develop flu-like symptoms inform doctors and nurses of your travel history." They will test for the virus.
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