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BC hospitals, ERs on alert for MERS virus from Middle East

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – A severe, possibly-deadly respiratory virus in the Middle East has doctors in this province on alert right now.

The MERS virus is similar to the SARS virus from 2003. It originated in Saudi Arabia.

“The new coronavirus… is causing a respiratory illness. Cases have actually been exported to Britain, Germany, France, and most recently, in Morocco,” explains Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall.

“About 50 per cent of the cases have actually ended up in death. So, there’s a concern about this virus because if it becomes more easily transmissible human-to-human, the potential is for it to spread outside of the Middle East more rapidly than it has done today,” he adds.

Kendall tells us hospitals and ERs here in BC are on higher alert for the virus. “[They are] certainly on the lookout for people who present with severe respiratory syndrome, particularly if they have travelled in from countries where we have disease outbreaks that cause these illnesses.”

The incubation period of the MERS virus is also a lot longer than first thought.

“The level of protection the health care workers are using now and the level of isolation and protection from the patients are probably a lot more consistent than they were in 2003,” adds Kendall.

He tells us the virus can spread within hospitals and with close family contact, but so far, it hasn’t spread as rapidly as SARS did a decade ago.