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World Health Organization Issues Urgent MERS Warning


CNN-- The World Health Organization has issued a more urgent warning about the spread of the potentially deadly MERS virus. Eighteen countries, including the U.S., are now reporting cases.

The concern about this potentially fatal virus has significantly increased, according to the World Health Organization. Health officials say hundreds of people may have been exposed to the MERS virus by flying on planes within the United States with two MERS patients who are now in Florida and Indiana.

The patients are both healthcare workers who came to the U.S. after being infected in Saudi Arabia. One woman who flew on the same flight as a sick MERS patient told CNN affiliate WKMG that she was informed by her state health agency of her potential exposure.

"They informed me that there was a confirmed case of the MERS virus from my flight from Atlanta or Orlando," she said. "I was really scared."

The woman says neither she nor her husband have symptoms of MERS. The two MERS patients confirmed in the U.S. are reported to be getting better. But what if someone with MERS got out into a major city? Experts say it takes sustained, close contact with a patient to get it. But they also say MERS, like SARS, is worrisome.

"With SARS, it spread so far because people carrying the disease from Asia went to many different parts of the world," infectious disease specialist Stephen Morse said. "And unfortunately, when they got sick and went into hospitals or were being taken care of by family members, they were able to infect people who were at close range."

But is there a line of defense? A thermal imaging camera is used to try to detect elevated body temperatures and high fevers possibly associated with MERS. It was used Wednesday at a conference attended by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Saudi Arabia, where MERS originated. Similar devices are being used at airports in Asia and the Middle East.

"It's displayed on our camera as a colorized image," David Bursell of Flir Systems Inc. said. "And in this particular image, we see cold areas that are black-blue, to medium areas that are purple to orange, and they the warmer or higher-temperature areas being yellow to white."

But can these cameras spot MERS?

"They can't diagnose MERS with a fever scanner," Dr. Martin Cetron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. "The probability that someone with a fever actually has MERS, versus the numerable other things they could have, make it a very impractical tool in this current setting."

Health officials say some people who really have MERS could go undetected by a scanner, because some may not have fevers yet. The incubation period for MERS is two to 14 days. The World Health Organization says it's not recommending that agencies use thermal imaging cameras.

World Health Organization Issues Urgent MERS Warning

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