Health officials, Lambert airport prepare for possible MERS case

ST. LOUIS. MO (KPLR)-There have only been three cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in the United States, including one in Illinois. Still, St. Louis health experts expect to see a case here sooner or later.

The head of the St. Louis city health department and the director of Lambert Airport spent the weekend making sure their infectious disease plan is up to date just in case a passenger suspected of carrying the virus arrives in St. Louis.

St. Louis City Health Department Director Paw Walker says, “We want to be able to trigger this immediately if we get a case and not figure out who`s on call and what phone numbers work so you always test your system so we`re testing our systems to make sure they work.”

By law, the C.D.C. in Atlanta or local health officials can stop a sick passenger and order the person to be quarantined. Even though the disease originated on the Saudi Arabian peninsula, Lambert Aairport is a possible entry point for the illness.

“It’s just the way of the world. We all travel. We all live around the world,” added Walker.

There is no vaccine or medicine for the virus.

At Barnes Jewish Hospital they have everything in place should a MERS patient arrives in the emergency room. They have plans for how they would quarantine the person and how medical and nursing staff would take extensive measures to prevent the spread of the illness by wearing protective clothing. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Steven Lawrence says it’s a disease that kills about one third of everyone who gets infected. The symptoms are not unusual.

Dr. Lawrence says, “Most of the time it’s a fever with a cough with shortness of breath, the more severe case lead to severe pneumonia and even respiratory failure.”

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