RI Hospital is prepped for MERS

Rhode Island Hospital

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Health officials in South Korea believe a deadly outbreak of MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, may finally be easing. The outbreak has killed two dozen people, and is the largest ever outside the Arabian Peninsula. Some 6,000 people are under quarantine.

It’s raising concerns about the disease spreading around the globe — and if a patient comes to Rhode Island Hospital with a fever, the first question they get from staff is whether they’ve recently been outside the United States.

If the answer is yes, the patient will be isolated for a closer assessment.

It’s part of the hospital’s ‘new normal’ — the practice has been in place for years to help prevent illness.

Rhode Island Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Leonard Mermel said MERS symptoms are very similar to influenza. “There’s no symptoms you can separate and say, ‘This is definitely MERS…’ That’s why again, the travel history is essential.”

Officials in South Korea believe many of the cases there can be traced back to a single source: A man who contracted the disease in Saudi Arabia and brought it with him to Seoul. He went from hospital to hospital until he was finally diagnosed.

Susan Park and her daughter Sophie were visiting Brown University on Friday — and they were in South Korea just last week, during a layover coming from Cambodia. “We considered re-routing to Hong Kong, but because of the price of the tickets — and we have a large family — we just went for it,” said Susan.

“I do have aunts who live in Korea… I’m very nervous for the people there,” she added.

Thursday, Thailand confirmed its first case of MERS.

The United States has had only two cases of MERS, both last year, and in both cases the patient made a full recovery.