Maryland health department orders health providers to report suspected MERS cases

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein ordered healthcare providers and local health departments on Monday to report any suspected cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The directive, which also urged health workers to follow infection prevention measures, is intended to prevent the person-to-person spread of the disease. MERS has so far infected at least two people in the U.S.

"This directive and order formalizes what many of the health care providers were already doing," Sharfstein said. "These protocols will help Maryland to continue to be prepared if we are faced with a case of MERS."

DHMH communicated with all hospital infection prevention programs in Maryland hospitals to ensure they are aware of what to look for, what isolation precautions should be taken and how to test for the disease.

None of the confirmed MERS cases in the U.S. were in Maryland, and DHMH said the risk for infection in the state is low.

DHMH recommended that any Maryland residents who develop symptoms within 14 days of traveling from, in or near countries on the Arabian Peninsula seek medical care.

Most cases of MERS-CoV are characterized by an acute respiratory illness with a cough, fever or shortness of breath. Approximately 30 percent of those who were confirmed to have the disease died.