Study says hospitals must get handle on MERS epidemic

Hospitals could do more to prevent the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) epidemic, a new study indicates.

MERS, a highly fatal virus that causes a severe respiratory disease in patients, has become "a major public health concern of global dimensions," since the first instance was reported in 2012, according to the study, published by the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC).

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in May that it is too soon to declare MERS a global public health emergency, but other research echoes the seriousness of the virus, comparing it to SARS in that both are extremely deadly and easily transferred between people in healthcare facilities, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The AJIC study emphasized these key points about the role hospitals play in the transmission, and ultimately, control of MERS:

  • All healthcare–associated events of the virus featured gaps in infection control

  • Hospitals must increase their infection-control capacity

  • Studies are needed about the effectiveness of infection control measures

  • Hospitals urgently need vaccines and antiviral agents against MERS

While the study notes that vomiting and diarrhea are common in patients with MERS and thus may contribute to its spread in healthcare settings, it emphasizes that the virus is mainly spread through "respiratory secretions" from coughing, highlighting the need for early detection, isolation and strict implementation of infection control measures in patients diagnosed with the virus.

But as is the case with Ebola, recognizing MERS in patients is easier said than done. "Although such patients may present with compatible symptoms, the diagnosis may not be considered early or symptoms may be mild," the study authors note, citing the case of a patient in 2013 who exhibited no initial fever.  

Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for control of the virus include placing patients in an Airborne Infection Isolation Room; mandating the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for caregivers; implementing proper hand hygiene; and monitoring potentially exposed healthcare personnel.

The similarly structured WHO guidelines on control of the virus further emphasize the use of PPE when treating MERS patients, while echoing the AJIC study in its note that "further studies are required to better understand the risk of infection transmission" of the virus.

To learn more:
- check out the study
- read the CDC recommendations
- review the WHO guidelines