New coronavirus may not affect as many health care workers as SARS
A new strain of a virus in the Middle East is prompting fears of a pandemic around the globe. The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has infected 55 people in the Middle East and Europe, and has been responsible for 31 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The virus has been transmitted person-to-person, especially when a patient has close contact with someone such as a family member or health care worker, prompting fears among those workers in many areas affected. The WHO, however, is reporting that “many fewer infections with MERS-CoV have been reported in health care workers in [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] than might have been expected on the basis of the previous experience with SARS.”
In 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus spread rapidly, and health care workers comprised an estimated 37-63% of the cases reported in the outbreak according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We constantly monitor these kinds of infections, and study how they travel,” says Paresh Malvania, an infection control practitioner at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. “We monitor cases that come in through our emergency department, which is the front line for recognizing and taking proper precautions for these kind of diseases.”
The WHO recommends that health care workers use “standard and droplet precautions” when it comes to interacting with patients who are confirmed or suspected to have been infected with the coronavirus. “The CDC also adds that as a standard and when possible airborne precautions be used,” says Kay O’Connor, an infection control coordinator at Advocate Condell. “When airborne precautions are not possible, then healthcare workers should use droplet and contact precautions.”
Finally, O’Connor adds, “Coronavirus isn’t always deadly. It’s a large family of viruses that could be similar to the common cold or as dangerous as the SARS virus. We are closely monitoring this disease, which we haven’t seen any documented cases in the United States yet, but also must be cautious not to jump to ‘global pandemic’ based on media coverage.”
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