MERS Virus in China - Travel Precautions

A state of high alert for the MERS virus has been issued in China as nearby South Korea seems to be in the grip of one of the disease's largest ever outbreaks.

China announced that the country has been placed on high alert in response to the first case of MERS discovered in the nation. The infected patient is not Chinese but a South Korean national that had traveled to China via Hong Kong. He is currently recovering in a Chinese hospital and appears not to have infected anyone in China.

Here are some FAQ's about the virus and precautions that should be taken when traveling to China.

(The following is not and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your physician if you have any health concerns)

What is MERS and how is it transmitted?

MERS, which stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome, is a virus which kills 30 to 40 percent of those it infects by attacking a victim's lungs and breathing tubes. The disease seems to have originated in Saudi Arabia and while MERS is believed to have originated in bats, camels are now known to play a role in its spread.

MERS has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person.

MERS can affect anyone. MERS patients have ranged in age from younger than 1 to 99 years old.

As per the CDC:

"MERS-CoV, like other coronaviruses, is thought to spread from an infected person's respiratory secretions, such as through coughing. However, the precise ways the virus spreads are not currently well understood."

What are the Symptoms of MERS?

MERS affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). Most MERS patients develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Some people also had gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and nausea/vomiting.

For many people with MERS, more severe complications followed, such as pneumonia and kidney failure. About 3-4 out of every 10 people reported with MERS have died. Most of the people who died had an underlying medical condition.

Some infected people had mild symptoms (such as cold-like symptoms) or no symptoms at all; they recovered.

Should you delay or cancel your trip to China?

At this time, the CDC and the WHO do NOT recommend that people delay or cancel trips to China or South Korea where the outbreak occured. Both organizations are watching the situation closely and travel restrictions are not in place.

However, China and other Asian countries surrounding South Korea, including Taiwan and Singapore, have put either severe restrictions or major warnings on travel to and from South Korea.

In China, customs agents, tourism officials, and all government workers who inspect border crossings have been told to be on the lookout for signs of the disease, in an effort to limit the spread of the virus into China.

Hospitals, too, have been told to watch for the disease's symptoms and isolate any who may be carrying the virus.

Recommendations and Precautions to Prevent Infection

Some simple and common sense precautions all travelers and the regular population for that matter should follow:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean
  • Cover your mouth when coughing/sneezing, but not with your hand, use a tissue or your sleeve if you must
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Be sure you are up-to-date with all of your shots
  • Contact your doctor if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after being in the Republic of Korea. Tell your doctor about your recent travel before you go in for an appointment.

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