CDC confirms first case of MERS virus in America

CDC confirms first case of MERS virus in America

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(Laura Billings/Flickr) (Laura Billings/Flickr)
NEW YORK (Associated Press) - Health officials on Friday confirmed the first case of an American infected with a mysterious Middle East virus. The man fell ill after arriving in the U.S. about a week ago from Saudi Arabia where he is a health care worker.

Illinois health officials say they're aware that the American infected with the virus was on a flight to Chicago last week, and then traveled by bus to Indiana.

"This is the first ever case in the U.S. so that makes it significant because the virus has a very high fatality rate," said Lamar Hasbrouck, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The man is hospitalized in Indiana with Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the case along with Indiana health officials.

The patient is being treated at Community Hospital in Munster. In light of federal privacy regulations, it has only been disclosed that the patient is in good condition. We are maintaining appropriate isolation protocols for the protection of health care staff.

"He seems to be improving. I can tell you that he requires only a little supplemental oxygen. He hasn't required a ventilator so he looks to be doing well," said Hasbrouck.

Community Hospital has been working cooperatively with the CDC and ISDH regarding tracking of patient family members and monitoring of exposed health care workers. This patient was not out in the local community and, therefore, any public exposure was minimal.

“I want to assure every Hoosier that we have deployed the full resources of the Indiana State Department of Health to engage in tracking this case, assessing the risk to the public, and working to prevent the spread of this virus,” said Indiana Governor Pence. “We are working in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and encourage those who may have been exposed to this virus to report any symptoms to their medical provider and take all necessary precautions. Further, I commend Community Hospital in Munster, their staff and physicians for their swift professionalism in diagnosing and addressing this case.”

Saudi Arabia has been the center of an outbreak of MERS that began about two years ago. At least 400 people have had the respiratory illness, and more than 100 people have died. All had ties to the Middle East or to people who traveled there. Infections have been previously reported among health care workers.MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which caused some 800 deaths globally in 2003.

The MERS virus has been found in camels, but officials don't know how it is spreading to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. Not all those exposed to the virus become ill.

But it appears to be unusually lethal - by some estimates, it has killed nearly a third of the people it sickened. That's a far higher percentage than seasonal flu or other routine infections. But it is not as contagious as flu, measles or other diseases. There is no vaccine or cure for MERS.

The CDC on Friday released only limited information about the U.S. case: The man flew to the United States about a week ago, with a stop in London. He landed in Chicago and took a bus to the neighboring state of Indiana. He didn't become sick until arriving in Indiana, the CDC said. Symptoms include fever, cough, breathing problems, which can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

"So far we know that when this virus has been detected from someone who has clinical illness, one out of three times, the person may die," said Anne Schuchat with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are doing everything in our power to work with the hospital, federal and other state partners, as well as the local health department to track and contain this disease in Indiana,” said State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D.

CDC officials say they are sending a team to investigate the man's illness, his travel history and to track down people he may have been in close contact with.

"Anybody presumably in the airport setting, so theoretically a lot of people he could have come in contact with... Hundreds, even thousands potentially. The case is if it's casual passerby their risk is negligible," said Hasbrouck in an interview with FOX 32's Tisha Lewis.

Saudi Arabia health officials have recently reported a surge in MERS illnesses; cases have tended to increase in the spring. Experts think the uptick may party be due to more and better surveillance. Researchers at Columbia University have an additional theory - there may be more virus circulating in the spring, when camels are born.

U.S. health officials have been bracing for the arrival of one or more cases, likely among travelers. Isolated cases of MERS have been carried outside the Middle East. Previously, 163 suspected cases were tested in the U.S. but none confirmed.

Illinois residents and medical professionals who have concerns or questions should call 1-844-565-0256.

The IL Department of Public Health has posted a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website and will provide updates via social media.


FOX 32's Tisha Lewis contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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