Diagnosing and Treating Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
While early diagnosis of MERS is important for preventing complications and viral spread, many patients are not diagnosed initially, and usually develop more severe illness.
What to Expect
If you have mild symptoms, you may be asked by your doctor to drink fluids, remain at home and avoid contact with others to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. If you have severe symptoms, you will be admitted to the hospital and kept in an isolation room to avoid spreading the disease to others. Some patients with severe symptoms may develop lung or respiratory failure and require a breathing tube and a device to support breathing, called a mechanical ventilator or respirator.
How MERS Is Diagnosed
Symptoms of respiratory illness and recent travel to the Middle East region should raise the suspicion that a patient may have MERS. The World Health Organization developed a questionnaire that is used to investigate possible cases of disease. If your doctor suspects MERS, you will have a chest X-ray, blood tests, kidney function tests and respiratory samples (lung secretions) for evaluation.
How MERS Is Treated
Currently, there is no approved treatment specific for MERS. Patients with mild disease are given symptomatic treatment (fluids, pain relievers) for relief. If a patient is not hospitalized, he/she should stay at home and avoid contact with others to reduce spread of the virus. If a patient has severe disease, he/she will be admitted to the hospital. Supportive lung care and monitoring of body functions are usually performed. A patient may also be given oxygen, antibiotics and intravenous fluids. There is presently no vaccine available to prevent MERS. Infection prevention measures, such as wearing a mask, avoiding contact with a MERS-infected patient, and avoiding contact with camel milk or meat may decrease your risk of developing MERS. If you are older than 65 years of age, pregnant, have preexisting heart, lung, kidney disease, or cancer, you should avoid travel to the Arabian Peninsula and other places with recent MERS infection. Government travel notices can help guide your decision about traveling to the Arabian Peninsula.
This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.