AchooAllergy.com Blog
MERS, Microbes and My Growing Fear of People and the Bugs They Carry
Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, May 22, 2014
I cannot deny, that the older I get, the more I become a bit of a germaphobe. It is not something I’ve consciously done, but it is something I am fully aware of, and with a trip to visit friends and a couple flights on this holiday weekend’s agenda, for the first time ever I am going to be wearing a mask.

MERS Virus Under Electron MicrographYes, I am fully aware that I’ll likely not have to worry about catching tuberculosis, H1N1, or even the most recent virus to scare us back into our homes, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)… and just in time for summer! All kidding aside, MERS is a very nasty bug that first made its presence known nearly two years ago. New viruses do often make headlines. Typically, the mortality rate for novel strains, like this coronavirus, is initially high. Often, not all of those who are infected with new viruses report it. Information is often scant, and with so much unknown, the stories that tend to make headlines are those cases which are ultimately fatal. Initial mortality rates followed a curve that was also found with SARS and other new viruses. From 2012 into 2013, mortality rates for this virus were stated to be as high as 50%, an impressively terrible number. Since that time, the mortality rate has fallen, and latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) projections estimate it to be 30%, still a shockingly high number. Just earlier this month, the first case of MERS sprung up in the U.S. On May 2nd and then again on May 11th, there were two confirmed cases in the U.S., both travelers to Saudi Arabia. Then on May 16th of this month, the first confirmed case by an individual who had NOT traveled to the Middle East made headlines. This was in Illinois, and with me traveling to that area of the country this weekend, well….

MERS Infected Vero CellsHaving assessed the risk of infection very low for the average American, the CDC currently has few recommendations other than avoiding close contact with those who are ill, frequent hand washing, and to avoid touching your face, pretty standard fare for reducing the spread of any viruses. If you dig a little deeper into published information on the CDC website, there are additional guidelines for healthcare providers that stress testing, reporting and quarantining patients who are diagnosed. There is mention of the use of a mask, but with so little known about the virus, it is yet unclear how effective this would be in preventing the spread of MERS.

CDC recommendations for past viruses, such as H1N1, SARS, and the Avian flu have included the use of an N95 rated mask. N95 masks filter 95% of particles, including pathogens, that are 0.3 microns or larger. Though, it is not yet known how effective an N95 mask would be for MERS, previous experience would suggest that it can only help.

Like SARS, MERS is a coronavirus similar to those more commonly found in bats. As of now, the exact origin of this particular pathogen is not yet known, but there have been instances of the virus and/or antibodies to the virus show up in both camels and bats. There are a few things, however, that are known about MERS. First, it can be transmitted by close personal contact with someone who is infected. People who are caring for someone who is infected with MERS but exhibiting traditional flu-like symptoms are susceptible. This is partly why cases of MERS have cropped up in small clusters. Infection is punctuated by the development of "severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath." As of now, there is no vaccine for the virus.

With all that being said, my growing paranoia has firmly taken grip of me. So in addition to my pillow, pillow cover, camera, and toothbrush, I'll be toting a mask. For now, I'm leaning toward one of the Vogmasks (probably the Parallax). Polks Dots Are IN This Year!  And Yes, I DO Look Like I Have LEGO HairIt's small enough to put in my pocket, and doesn't make me look like I escaped from a containment lab.

I have to admit though, a small part of me wants to wear this simply to do a very small part in normalizing mask wearing. While it's fairly common in places where air quality is extremely poor (think Beijing), in the U.S. people wear masks for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, wearing a mask can also bring along questioning looks, but ultimately people wear masks for health reasons. Whether it's to reduce exposure to air pollution, heavy perfume, smoke or microbes, it all boils down to trying to add a small but not insignificant layer of protection. And that, shouldn't carry a stigma or unwanted looks.

In any event, I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

Author: Kevin Gilmore

UPDATE: A coworker just passed this along to me.
http://www.ajc.com/news/business/auburn-university-researchers-study-airplane-cabin/nf4Nt/
Ah-ha! Justified!



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