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Protect Yourself from Illness

Illness of many forms can arise throughout the world and grow to become an endemic or pandemic concern. As part of our commitment to this community, Mercy can provide you with basic information and resources about various illnesses as they heighten in awareness around the world. See below for recent illnesses in the news.

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Zika Virus

Mosquito on skinFebruary 2016, updated April 2016

Transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes, the Zika virus causes illness in about 20 percent of those infected. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis and should be considered for patients who traveled to areas with ongoing transmission two weeks prior to illness onset. As of mid-January 2016, these areas include 20 countries or territories in Region of the Americas including Mexico, parts of South America and the Caribbean. By April 2016, local Zika transmission is also noted in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

Spread to other countries is being closely monitored. Some travelers visiting the U.S. or returning to the U.S. have reported infection and the CDC has confirmed Zika is transmittable through sexual contact. In April, the CDC reported 346 confirmed cases of Zika in the continental U.S. These cases stem from travels to Zika-affected regions along with sexual transmission.

Hospitalization from the virus is uncommon and fatalities are rare, however, the CDC confirmed in mid-April Zika causes microcephaly (smallness of the head associated with incomplete brain development) in infected pregnant women. The virus also appears to link to premature birth, blindness and other fetal brain defects.

The World Health Organization has declared Zika a public health emergency. In April, the White House shifted funds from Ebola research to Zika while the CDC announced it would provide Zika funding to Puerto Rico.

Zika Virus Prevention

Women who have been diagnosed with, or have symptoms of, Zika virus are recommended by the CDC to wait at least eight weeks after symptoms appeared before attempting pregnancy. Men with Zika or symptoms of it are recommended to wait at least six months after symptoms appeared before engaging in unprotected sex.

The best prevention of the virus is to avoid exposure to mosquito bites, eliminate mosquito breeding areas and practice safe-sex guidelines. Healthcare providers will work with the CDC and Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology to complete testing for the virus in cases that meet testing criteria.

Zika Virus infographic

Learn more:


Depiction of bacteriaFebruary 2015

Illnesses linked to superbugs continue to emerge as a health threat both in the U.S. and abroad. Superbugs, also known as “Multi-Drug Resistant Organisms” (MDRO), are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. According to the CDC, each year these drug-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people nationwide.

Superbugs are getting renewed attention partly due to a recent outbreak at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles stemming from the bacteria, known as CRE, or carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The exposure was linked to two contaminated instruments used during recent procedures at the facility.

Here are some simple precautions you can take to keep you and others safe:

  • Tell your doctor if you have been recently hospitalized or have undergone a medical procedure.
  • Educate yourself on infection rates of other hospitals where you may be, or have been, treated.
  • Take antibiotics only as prescribed.
  • Expect all doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after touching your body or tubes going into your body. If they do not, ask them to do so.
  • Clean your own hands often, especially before preparing or eating food; changing wound dressings or bandages; after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay up-to-date with vaccines.
  • Ask questions of your healthcare provider. Understand what is being done to you, the risks and benefits.

Read Frequently Asked Questions about “Superbugs” related to medical instruments at Mercy.

Mercy adds new light disinfection system to bolster patient safety.

For more information from the CDC on superbugs, visit


Mother nursing sick girFebruary 2015

While there are currently no confirmed cases of measles in Iowa, it’s important to be aware that measles has recently been identified in a number of other states, including neighboring South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois. The majority of cases reported so far during 2015 are part of a large, ongoing outbreak linked to an amusement park in California. Measles is more common in some other parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, making unimmunized travelers more susceptible.

Anyone who is not vaccinated against measles is at risk of getting infected.

Some important measles reminders:

Measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases
  • 90% of people who are not immune and exposed will become infected.
  • The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infectious droplets or by airborne spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes.
  • Measles virus can remain infectious on surfaces and in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves an area.
Symptoms of measles include a high fever AND a rash (which may develop a day or so later)
  • Fevers typically are greater than 103°F.
  • Rashes are red and blotchy and typically start on the hairline and face, and then spread downward to the rest of the body.
  • Rash is followed by a cough, runny nose and redness of the eyes.
The only way to prevent measles is through MMR vaccination.
  • Persons should be up-to-date on MMR vaccine and other vaccines.
  • For those who travel abroad, CDC recommends that all U.S. residents older than 6 months be protected from measles and receive MMR vaccine, if needed, prior to departure.
  • Infants 6 to 11 months old should receive one dose of MMR vaccine before departure.
  • Children 12 months of age or older should have documentation of two doses of MMR vaccine (separated by at least 28 days).
  • Teenagers and adults (born in or after 1957) without laboratory evidence of measles immunity should have documentation of two appropriately spaced doses of MMR vaccine.
  • If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).
  • There is no specific antiviral therapy for measles. Medical care is supportive and to help relieve symptoms and address complications such as bacterial infections.
For more information:

Visit or learn more about the importance of vaccination from Mercy's James Matsuda, MD, PhD, in this recorded webinar.


October 2014

There continues to be news about Ebola outbreaks in West Africa.

The CDC emphasizes there is "no significant risk" of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. It is spread only “through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids,” according to the World Health Organization.

The probability of contracting Ebola in Iowa and the U.S. is low. Patients experiencing fever, headache, weakness, etc., while similar to Ebola symptoms, likely have another condition, such as the flu, and should visit their primary care provider for treatment.

However, if you have recently traveled to West Africa or been exposed to someone who has, you may be at greater risk for a serious condition like Ebola. Please call your healthcare provider or emergency services to ensure you receive immediate care.

To prevent contracting Ebola, avoid travel to endemic areas (e.g. Western Africa) and be cautious when in contact with anyone recently returned from that area, especially if they show signs of illness.

Heightened global awareness of any illness is also a good time to remember the universal precautions listed below to avoid many types of illnesses.

CDC information on Ebola:

Prevention Efforts at Mercy

Mercy Medical Center continues to prepare to safely care for patients with a contagious disease, including Ebola.

Protocols have been developed by staff, including infection prevention specialists. These protocols include the use of Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare workers, and will be revised as new information becomes available. Training, sharing of information and completing inventory of necessary equipment is ongoing.

Patients with symptoms of contagious diseases including Ebola presenting to Mercy should be prepared to answer whether they have traveled to West Africa or been exposed to someone who has traveled from that region. Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2-21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8-10 days. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

This information is vital to enable healthcare workers to screen travel history and symptoms so patients with possible Ebola can be immediately recognized. If possible, patients that suspect they may have Ebola because of potential exposure to persons in West Africa should stay in their home and call the Linn County Department of Public Health at (319) 892-6093 or call 911 depending on the severity of their condition. If en route to Mercy Medical Center's ER, please call the ER at (319) 398-6041 in while en route. This will allow healthcare providers to identify and immediately isolate the individual.

Human Enterovirus EV-D68

Sick girlSeptember 8, 2014

Several Midwestern states, including Iowa, are reporting cases of respiratory illness, some severe enough to require children to be hospitalized. Those affected states have contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for help in investigating enterovirus.

There have been no documented cases of pediatric patients with enteroviruses admitted for treatment at Mercy Medical Center.

According to the CDC, enteroviruses are fairly common. However, this particular strain – Human Enterovirus EV-D68 – is uncommon, but not new. It was first identified in the 1960s.

Most people who get infected with enteroviruses do not get sick or, they may have mild illness, like the common cold. But, some people can get very sick; infants and people with weakened immune systems have a greater chance of having these complications.

You can get infected with enteroviruses by having close contact with an infected person or by touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Human Enterovirus EV-D68 produces symptoms similar to a severe cold but can be particularly dangerous for children with asthma because of how it affects the respiratory system.

Symptoms of mild illness may include: fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, skin rashes, mouth blisters, and body and muscle aches.
There is no vaccine to protect you from the enterovirus infection. However, you can help protect yourself and others from enterovirus infections by following the precautions at the bottom of this page.

In the United States, people are more likely to get infected with enteroviruses in the summer and fall.

Download a tip sheet.

If you suspect you or a member of your family have developed Human Enterovirus EV-D68, contact your primary care provider. If you do not have a primary care provider a please call MercyCare Find-a-Doc at (319) 369-4444 to learn about your available options.

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

Man blowing his noseMay 15, 2014

Illnesses linked to newly identified organisms continue to emerge as a threat both in the U.S. and abroad. In May 2014, a new virus, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was identified in the U.S.

To protect yourself and others from illness, the CDC recommends following the universal precautions listed below.

National Meningitis Outbreak

April 2013

There has been an outbreak of meningitis which has been linked to epidural injections for back pain. The FDA has said the steroid causing the outbreak came from the New England Compounding Center, based in Framingham, Mass. Mercy does not use supplies from this company. Mercy does not use supplies from this company and has not done business with NECC for any product. As result, our patients are not at risk. No cases have been identified in Iowa nor has the drug been sold to any pharmacy in Iowa.

The company has recalled three lots of the drug last week and has said it has voluntarily suspended operations and is working with regulators to identify the source of the infection. Last week one of their plants found fungus in a sealed vial of the steroid, according to the FDA. Agency officials warned against using any of the firm's drugs.

Please be assured that Mercy will continue to monitor the situation and provide additional information as necessary. You may also visit the following website for the latest information:

Universal Health Precautions

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

Visit the CDC website to learn more: