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MERS in China: Are you at risk?

MERS has been in the regional news a lot recently. Is it something we should be worried about in China, and if so, how will insurance companies react to an outbreak? Pacific Prime covers these questions and more in this article.

Posted on Jun 04, 2015 by Rob McBroom

Over the last two weeks in May and first week of June, various news mediums in Hong Kong and mainland China reported that MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) has been discovered in the region. In fact, on June 1, Yahoo News reported that 77 people had come into contact with a person with the first recorded MERS case in China. This news prompted many cities in southern China - including Hong Kong - to issue a health warning.

The question many in China are asking is whether they are at risk for this disease and whether their insurance will cover it. To help, Pacific Prime has developed this mini-guide on MERS and what you need to know about it in China.

What exactly is MERS?

MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a respiratory sickness caused by what’s called the MERS coronavirus - a virus in the same family as the ones responsible for the common cold, and SARS - that was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012, with earlier cases identified in Jordan. It has since been reported in many different countries with almost all cases being connected in some way with the middle east. The latest cases in China came about as a result of a man from South Korea whose father had been in hospital and exposed to another patient with MERS. This man traveled to Hong Kong and then into southern China against the advice of his doctors and exposed a number of passengers to the disease.

With cold and flu like symptoms - shortness of breath, fever, and cough - and others like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and pneumonia, the average death rate of people with this illness is estimated to be around 3-4 out of 10 (according to the CDC). This fairly high death rate, along with the fact that it is transmitted relatively easily, has many countries worried. Especially China, with it’s dense population.

Is this as serious an issue as some would have you believe?

In truth, not a whole lot is really known about the origination of MERS, though health experts do know the basic symptoms and generally how it is transmitted. What they do know for sure is that it is not as serious or as deadly as SARS, but if it were introduced into China, there is a chance that it could spread quickly.  

According to the CDC, people who have had close contact with someone who, “has had close contact with a confirmed MERS case within the last 14 days without using the recommended infection control precautions, should contact a healthcare provider for an evaluation.” For people who have recently been to the Arabian Peninsula, the CDC notes, “If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula, you should call ahead to a healthcare provider and mention your recent travel. While sick, stay home from work or school, and delay future travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.”

Empiracally, most healthy people who show slight symptoms will recover. It’s people with pre-existing conditions like lung disease, cancer, etc. that need to be especially careful.  

If I get sick with MERS in China, will my insurance cover it?

With almost all individual insurance plans taken out by expats in China, you should be covered if you contract MERS, largely because the vast majority of people in China likely won’t be putting themselves in a situation where they are at risk of catching it (e.g., caring for someone with MERS in the hospital, or travelling to the middle east to work in a MERS clinic). In other words, if you are not intentionally exposing yourself to the disease, then you will most likely be covered. That being said, it will help to follow the usual cold and flu prevention tips listed on the CDC site.

What we recommend is contacting our insurance experts, who can go over your plan with you and suggest any options that may be available. Contact them today.  


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