Turkey improves MERS screening after fatal case
An emergency department of an Istanbul hospital was quarantined after a patient suspected of having MERS was treated there. (File/AP)
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As the world has been gripped by fear of theEbola virus, another potentially fatal disease has been making an unwelcome appearance in Turkey.
MERS or ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ – a viral illness first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 – has been claiming lives around the globe. Turkey is the latest country in which the disease has claimed a life.
An unidentified man who had been in Saudi Arabia on business, returned to Hatay in southern Turkey on October 6 suffering with respiratory problems. After being admitted to a private hospital, his condition deteriorated and he died five days later.
It is still unknown how the infection occurred and the medical authorities have declined to release further details. However, it is thought – but as yet unconfirmed – that the virus is transmitted from animals, possibly camels, to humans.
On Tuesday, an emergency department of an Istanbul hospital was quarantined for several hours after a patient was taken there on suspicion of having MERS.
The 73-year-old woman had been complaining about fever and nausea when she was admitted to Eyup State Hospital late on Monday. She had recently returned from the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is currently unconfirmed if she was infected with the virus.
Another elderly woman in Istanbul was admitted on Monday into care with fever and coughing problems; she has since been receiving treatment at Haydarpasa Training and Research Hospital. She has not tested positive for MERS yet but examination results are expected within days.
The Health Ministry announced on Monday that family doctors across Turkey are monitoring the health conditions of those who went to Hajj or Umrah – a similar pilgrimage – for any signs of the disease.
The ministry also prepared a guidebook about diagnosis and treatment of the disease for health workers. Fever, coughing, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath are among the main symptoms.
“Symptoms are actually like those of other viral diseases such as ‘flu but people with MERS face shortness of breath as time progresses,” says Emel Bayrak, a specialist at the Internal Disease Department of Medicana International Hospital in Ankara.
“The virus is more dangerous for older people or those who do not have strong immune systems,” Bayrak states.
Approximately 27% of patients with MERS have died since the disease was identified, according to the World Health Organization.
“The virus causes more severe disease in people who already have chronic illnesses like diabetes, renal failure and lung disease,” says Professor Serhat Unal, head of the Internal Disease Department of Hacettepe University in Ankara.
Turkish health experts are now warning people to be careful about hygiene.
“People should clean their hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds. If they sneeze or cough, they should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue,” Bayrak says.
“It is important to keep one meter away from a person, who sneezes or coughs,” Unal adds.
He also warned those who have just returned from Saudi Arabia and have experienced fever or respiratory tract infection within the last 15 days to wear a mask immediately to prevent a possible spread of the virus.
Unal also urged those who feel they are showing symptoms of the disease to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Over 300 people in Saudi Arabia have died so far from MERS, making it the worst-hit country. Along with Saudi Arabia, MERS has also been reported in countries as far apart as Egypt, Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States.
No vaccine is currently available for MERS. Treatment is supportive and based on the patient’s condition, the World Health Organization says.
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