Disease specialist: MERS won't become pandemic




Posted on May 15, 2014 at 7:50 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Despite two reported cases in the United States, one Austin doctor who specializes in infectious diseases says MERS, while from the same virus family that produced SARS a few years ago, should not develop into a serious worldwide health problem.

At the hike and bike trails, one of Austin’s more popular exercise locations, MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) is generating a healthy dose of curiosity.

“I don’t know very much about it,” said Richard Newman of San Antonio.  “I just know what the media has told us.”

Four people were tested for MERS in San Antonio on Wednesday after potential exposure.

“I know it’s a bad virus that’s similar to SARS and comes from the Middle East,” said Shannon Cunningham, an Austin resident.

MERS produces flu-like symptoms: Fever, cough and trouble breathing. The first reported case came in the summer of 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Doctors say camels may actually be carriers. The disease spread, largely to health professionals there.

“It’s not transmitted very effectively,” said Brian Metzger, M.D., the Director of Infectious Diseases at St. David's Medical Center. 

Metzger says MERS only spreads among very close contacts.

“When some scientists have looked at this, how transmissible is this, it does not reach any pandemic potential, pandemic spread potential,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has seen 500 cases since 2012. Thirty percent of those patients died. Metzger says the fatality rate may be over estimated because it only measures those requiring hospitalization.

“There’s a whole spectrum of illness with this,” said Metzger. “There’s people that get this virus and have minimal symptoms if any, but we’re really recognizing the tip of the iceberg – those that seek medical attention.”

On the trails those KVUE talked with don’t want to overreact.

“I think awareness is good,” said Cunningham.  “It’s good to know symptoms that could be dangerous to you, but I think sometimes these viruses are a little overplayed.”