The risk of any Oklahoman contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome remains low, health leaders said Thursday.
“We just want to be prepared,” said Gary Cox, executive director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. “We also want to say we have a plan in place to respond, and basically, our plan calls for detecting anything ... certainly protecting our citizenry and responding to that event that we might have.”
MERS, a viral respiratory illness, was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most MERS patients developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. About 30 percent of those sickened died, according to the CDC.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for MERS. Rather, medical professionals can treat the symptoms of MERS.
The first cases of MERS in the U.S. were reported in early May, with one case found in Indiana and another in Florida. Both people who contracted MERS were travelers from Saudi Arabia. A third person in Illinois was reported May 17 and likely got MERS from the Indiana man.
Overall, the MERS situation in the U.S. represents “a very low risk to the general public in this country,” according to the CDC.
The same is true in Oklahoma, health leaders say.
So far, nine Oklahomans were contacted because they were on flights with either the person in the Indiana case or the Florida case. Those residents were in Oklahoma, Cleveland and Payne counties.
Laurence Burnsed, director of the communicable disease division for the state Health Department, said none of those Oklahoma residents showed any symptoms of MERS.
Burnsed said public health workers contacted the residents and checked on them over a two-week time period, the time it would have taken for them to show MERS symptoms.
The majority of the residents agreed to blood tests, which will show — once results are available from the CDC — whether they contracted MERS but were asymptomatic, he said.
“It just illustrates how mobile our population can be and where exposure can occur,” Burnsed said. “However, what we know about MERS is the risk is very low from just being on the same flight ... The occurrence of secondary cases in the Arabian peninsula has been limited to household members and health care workers providing care to MERS patients.”
At a glance
•United Arab Emirates