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Local hospital prepares for MERS outbreak

One hospital in eastern Idaho said it is prepared to handle the deadly respiratory virus known as MERS, if it appears in our area. There are three confirmed cases of the virus in the United States. There are no cases in Idaho.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as MERS, can be a potentially deadly virus.

“We do know that you need some close contact to get this virus, but we’re not exactly sure of the route of spread,” said Infectious Disease Specialist Richard Nathan.

Nathan said Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center is well-prepared if MERS made its way inside.

“We’ve prepared for the whole bio-terrorists training we’ve had since 9/11 and all patients that come into the hospital are screened. They’re screened for respiratory illness and a variety of other things,” said Nathan.

If the screening shows the patient could be at risk for a respiratory illness they are kept in a respiratory isolation room inside the hospital. The room has special vents to prevent the spread of the virus. Nathan said to test for MERS, hospital staff have to send samples to the state health department. Recently, EIRMC had to send a sample to the state.

“We had a case here in the office. A patient came from the Middle East and had respiratory symptoms and we sent a sample to the state. It turns out he had Influenza B.”

Nathan said it is not likely Idaho will see any cases, but it is always good to be prepared. Symptoms of MERS include fever, cough and pneumonia. There are more than 500 cases worldwide. There is no cure for MERS. The first confirmed case was found in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

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