Local hospitals prepare for MERS virus

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – Hospital officials have known about the potentially deadly MERS virus for more than a year, and in that time they’ve been preparing.

“We feel like we’re prepared,” said Laura Aschenberg, infectious disease manager at Franciscan St. Elizabeth East Hospital.

Aschenberg said Tippecanoe County and its hospitals participate in emergency preparedness training multiple times a year. She said much of that training is centered around infectious diseases and what to do should it make its way inside a hospital.

“There are masks at our entrances,” said Aschenberg. “So, we’d like for them to put on a mask and then depending on what the doctor sees when they get here, they’d order tests and the patient would be put in isolation.”

Down the road at IU Health Arnett, the same protocol is in place.

Thomas Meyer, an infectious disease physician, said they’ve been going through the training and educating their doctors on the disease for quite some time.

“We’re notifying doctors on what to look out for, when to suspect it, how to get tested for it if you happen to run into a person that could potentially have MERS,” said Meyer. “All the footwork has been in place since before the first case came to Indiana.”

Even though the virus carries a mortality rate of 30 percent, Meyer said he doesn’t want residents to fear. He said because the virus is spread through close contact, he doesn’t believe the virus will become anything widespread.

“[It’s] similar to the SARS epidemic a few years earlier in China and Southeast Asia. That never set root in the United States,” said Meyer.

Even though Meyer doesn’t think the virus will become widespread, there are still things you can do to prevent it.

He said residents should treat it like the flu — cover your coughs and sneezes, and always wash your hands.

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