Is another pandemic on the way? The generic coronavirus is common everywhere, but this one – Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV – is a particularly virulent strain. It’s also on the move. The World Health Organization published information on May 1st about serious infection of a hospital patient in Egypt who had returned to the country after a stay in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On May 2nd, the first U.S. case of MERS was identified in a traveller arriving from Saudi Arabia. Recent similar illnesses include the SARS outbreak in 2003. What precautions are necessary this time?
As its name indicates, MERS has been mainly confirmed so far in countries in the Arabian Peninsula that includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Travellers to and from this area may be at risk if they come into close contact with somebody already suffering from the illness. It is not yet known whether MERS automatically spreads through communities. Symptoms include fever, coughs and shortness of breath. So far, 30% of people known to have been infected by MERS have died.
While any action should be in proportion to the real degree of danger involved, it’s a good opportunity to check you have an up to date pandemic plan. Prevention is better than cure. Measures to avoid contracting MERS are similar to those for staying clear of flu: keep hands clean with soap and water, cover nose and mouth when sneezing (dispose properly of used tissues), avoid close contact with sick people, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as door handles.
In case MERS or a similar illness affects your organization, make sure your pandemic plan includes further appropriate measures. Expect to have to operate with physically dispersed sub-groups of employees who may not be in their normal place of work. Home working, mobile working, remote connections to company systems and re-routing of customer calls may all be necessary to ensure business continuity. As ever, don’t just plan – test beforehand as well!