Having an internationally recognised qualification that enables you to work in foreign countries has long been a way for medical staff to travel the world, able to support themselves whilst they do so.
It’s ironic then, that the source of the next pandemic will most likely be globe trotting medical staff returning home from a stint abroad.
Saudi Arabia has long been a choice country for nursing staff. The tax free benefits attract doctors and nurses from many countries including the UK, the USA, Australia,the Philippines and increasingly Scandanavian countries such as Finland.
Speaking to Yahoo news infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja of Pittsburg Medical Center said:
“This is how MERS might spread around the world. Healthcare workers are at extremely high risk of contracting MERS compared to the general public,”
The recent cases of MERS in the United States were in health workers returning from Saudi Arabia and experts fear there will be many more cases of MERS brought back from the region.
Michelle Tatro, 28, leaves next week for the kingdom, where she will work as an open-heart-surgery nurse. Tatro, who typically does 13-week stints at hospitals around the United States, said her family had sent her articles about MERS, but she wasn’t worried. “I was so glad to get this job,” she told Reuters. “Travel is my number one passion.” So far, international health authorities have not publicly expressed concern about the flow of expatriate medical workers to and from Saudi Arabia. “There is not much public health authorities or border agents can do,” said infectious disease expert Dr Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. “Sure, they can ask people, ‘did you work in a healthcare facility in Saudi Arabia,’ but if the answer is yes, then what?”
MERS is just one disease that can hitch a ride with returning health workers. The reason for the concern is that MERS can resemble nothing more than a mild sniffle in some patients, something that would not cause them enough concern to get checked by a doctor. Sadly, this does not make it less contagious and those it is passed to may not have such mild symptoms…but if they do, and they also pass it on undetected, then you have the start of an epidemic.
The second patient in the United States is a classic example of this.
Milder symptoms played a role in the second U.S. case of MERS, a man who started having body aches on a journey from Jeddah on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast to the United States. It took the patient more than a week before he sought help in an emergency department in Orlando, Florida. Once he arrived, he waited nearly 12 hours in the ER before staff recognized a MERS link and placed him in an isolation room. The patient did not have signs of a respiratory infection, not even a cough (source)
The Chicago Tribune reports on the third case of MERS in the United States. It was passed to the patient by the Illinois sufferer.
A U.S. citizen previously hospitalized in Indiana with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has passed the potentially fatal virus to an Illinois man, federal health officials said Saturday.
Health officials originally contacted the Illinois resident earlier this month after learning that he had met with the Indiana patient on two occasions prior to the Indiana man’s hospitalization, according to a release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An initial test of the Illinois man on May 5 came back negative for an active MERS-CoV infection, officials said. But further testing revealed that the man had in fact been previously infected with the virus.
The Illinois man did not require medical care, officials said, and is reportedly feeling well. Local health officials are continuing to monitor the man’s health condition, officials said. The man’s body likely developed antibodies that fought off the MERS virus, health officials said.
Global travel has massive benefits, but it could quite easily facilitate a global pandemic, of MERS or any other disease that hitches a ride with returning workers or tourists. Diseases that would have remained pretty much contained in the past now have as much ability to travel as we do, and the results of that could be devastating.
The MERS virus was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, and has spread to 572 confirmed cases in 15 countries, health officials said. The potentially fatal disease has claimed 173 lives.