Windsor Regional Hospital has asked its employees to look closely for symptoms of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in its patients and employees.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. A coronavirus cousin of MERS caused the 2003 SARS outbreak.

MERS Symptoms

Most people infected with the MERS virus develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. So far, about  25 to 30 per cent of them have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some patients have described it as a mild respiratory illness.

As of May 14, the virus has resulted in 571 laboratory-confimed cases that have been reported to the World Health Organization. There had also been at least 145 deaths since September 2012, according to the WHO.

The virus showed up in Orlando, Fla., last week.

Windsor Regional Hospital says in a memo to staff that "it is imperative that anyone presenting with signs and symptoms of acute respiratory illness be placed in droplet and contact precautions immediately, and a travel history obtained.

"If recent travel includes a visit to any country in the Middle East and surrounding area (or if staff are unsure) the patient should be placed in a negative pressure room and staff must wear an N95 [respirator]."

The hospital also requires employees to notify their employer if they or anyone close to them has travelled to the Middle East before returning to work.

According to the WHO, nearly 75 per cent of recently reported cases of MERS are "secondary cases," many of whom are health-care workers who have contracted the virus within a healthcare environment.

There are currently no vaccines or specific treatments for MERS.