MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and is related to both the common cold and SARS. It was first discovered in Saudi Arabia and has killed about thirty percent of the people who contracted the virus.
But Dr. Catherine Troisi, who is an epidemiologist with the UT School of Public Health, says there’s very little human-to-human transmission, and it’s not an epidemic.
“I wouldn’t say I’m alarmed, because we knew this was going to happen,” she said. “It’s a global economy, and people travel all the time. It just again points out how we need to be alert to new viruses showing up and spreading in other areas.”
Although it’s unknown where MERS comes from, it has been found in camels. The only human-to-human transmissions have been from infected patients to health care workers or family members.
Troisi says she wouldn’t be surprised to see MERS show up in Houston since there’s so much travel between here and the Middle East. But, she says the region is better prepared to handle viral outbreaks.
“H1N1 was a great dress rehearsal. We really geared up our preparedness activities and luckily the virus wasn’t as horrible as we thought it might be,” she said. “We’ll be in much better shape the next time.”
However, Troisi says Houston is not prepared with enough available hospital beds for any epidemic outbreak and she says funding for surveillance and tracking is always at risk of being cut.