For California, MERS Risk Remains Low

California bears little risk of succumbing to a deadly virus that has gripped multiple countries overseas, the state’s top health officer Karen Smith said Monday.

Since 2013, the California Department of Public Health has tested 63 people for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a virus which has sickened more than 150 people in South Korea alone. Of those, however, all were negative for the disease.

Despite its rapid spread in foreign countries (Germany recently reported its first MERS-related death), officials note that the virus is not easily contractible. Two people in the United States tested positive for MERS last year, but both were working as health care personnel in Saudi Arabia where the disease first began.

"You're not going to get it," said Laurene Mascola, chief of the acute communicable disease control program for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "Go about your business. Eat Korean food. Visit Korea."

MERS is a coronavirus which is believed to have initially spread through human contact with camels. The first case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 but has since spread to South Korea, likely initiated by a businessman. MERS symptoms include fever and respiratory problems, such as coughing or shortness of breath. Experts say anyone with those symptoms who has recently traveled from the Middle East or from a treatment facility in South Korea should contact their healthcare provider. Otherwise, there is little cause for concern in the United States or California—even among predominantly Middle Eastern or Korean communities.

Read more about the MERS outbreak here.