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A virus that has sickened more than 800 people around the world, mostly in the Middle East, poses little risk to U.S. service members, a Defense Department health official said in a press release Thursday.
Two cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, have been confirmed in the continental U.S.; both people contracted it in Saudi Arabia, U.S. health officials have said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the reported cases have been in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries, where thousands of U.S. service members are and have been stationed and where others travel regularly.
The best defense is to wash hands “often using soap and water, or, if that is not available an alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” said Air Force Col. Carol Fisher, DoD’s director of public health.
In an interview with American Forces Press Service, Fisher said the current risk of service members contracting the virus is fairly low. “But in an age of travel around the world in 24 hours, there is always a danger,” she said.
MERS is a respiratory illness that begins with a flu-like fever and cough but can lead to shortness of breath, pneumonia and death.