Hawaii physicians among those on the lookout for MERS

Hawaii physicians among those on the lookout for MERS
Dr. Robert Sussman
Dr. Robert Sussman

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reminding physicians to be on the alert for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, after an outbreak of the disease in South Korea.

"Every clinician, doctors and nurses, need to be thinking about the possibility of MERS," said CDC Deputy Director Dr. Michael Bell.

The possibility is higher in Hawaii because of the daily flights between Seoul and Honolulu, which bring upwards of 200,000 visitors a year.

The CDC announced Thursday that doctors should be on the lookout.

"That means if someone comes into a clinic or an emergency room with a fever and cough, you need to ask, 'Have you traveled at all? Where have you been?'" said Bell.

More than a hundred cases of MERS have developed in South Korea in the past three weeks. But health officials there have moved to contain the virus by disinfecting public transportation, closing 2,600 schools and isolating more than 3,000 people.

"Coming into our clinic, as opposed to an emergency room, when we see people we could do flu tests which we can get back in five minutes," said Dr. Robert Sussman of The Medical Corner, a clinic with four locations on Oahu. "So we can eliminate MERS, but basically say, well, you've got the flu."

There have been no cases in Hawaii. There were two cases on the mainland, but those happened last year.

Sussman said no matter what the respiratory illness, use common sense. "Hand washing, coughing into a tissue so you're not spreading it around, the 'Dracula cough' (coughing into the inside of the elbow) -- those sorts of things will help to control and maintain it."

MERS is so new that there are no vaccines or specific medications against it. In severe cases, there's a 40 percent chance of it becoming fatal.

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