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Second MERS case in US confirmed in Orlando hospital

Published time: May 12, 2014 17:24
Edited time: May 12, 2014 19:03
Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

The second US case of a deadly Middle Eastern virus has been confirmed in Florida, according to federal and state health officials. Florida’s case of Middle East respiratory syndrome comes just days after the first patient was released from the hospital.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health announced the MERS case ten days after the first case was confirmed in Indiana. That infected patient was an unnamed healthcare worker who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Indiana.

The CDC and Florida Department of Health announced during a press conference Monday that the second patient is also a healthcare worker living and working in Saudi Arabia. The person was hospitalized in isolation in Orlando, Fla., during a visit with family. Officials said the patient flew from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to London, and began to feel unwell on that flight. The MERS victim then flew from London to Boston, arriving in the US on May 1, then flying through Atlanta before arriving in Orlando. The patient did not visit any theme parks in Orlando.

The CDC is working to identify and contact more than 500 people who were on the same domestic flights as the patient, who was hospitalized May 8 and is doing well, officials said. They would not give any identifying characteristics about the person, including age or gender. The officials did say they believe the patient was working in a Saudi Arabian facility dealing with the MERS virus, but were unsure if the sickened healthcare worker was dealing directly with those patients.

The Indiana patient, a man in his 60s who had been living and working in Saudi Arabia, was released from the hospital on Friday, according to the NBC News. “The patient has tested negative for MERS, is no longer symptomatic and poses no threat to the community,” Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer at the Community Hospital in Munster, Ind., said, according to the Washington Post. The hospital talked to the CDC before releasing the patient, the hospital said.

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. The symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. It is also deadly: 30 percent of people who contracted MERS have died.

The virus - similar to SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, another coronavirus - spreads through close contact with ill people (such as caring for or living with an infected person), but has not spread in a sustained way in communities, the CDC says. There are no specific treatments for the virus, and medical care focuses on treating the symptoms. The virus’ incubation period - the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms - is about five days. The CDC recommends people who develop a fever and cough or shortness of breath within two weeks of traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula should see a doctor right away.

Since the virus appeared two years ago, 538 cases have been confirmed in a dozen countries, and 145 people have died from MERS, two more cases than the World Health Organization reported on Friday. Those countries include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Kuwait. Travel-related cases have been confirmed in the United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia and now the US. Over 450 people have been infected in Saudi Arabia alone, and 118 of them have died, CDC officials said, citing the WHO.

Last Tuesday, a patient in the Washington, DC area was hospitalized with what may be MERS, according to Turner Radio Network.

"In the greater Washington area, a patient traveling from Saudi Arabia last month is suspected of having MERS and is now hospitalized at Children's National Medical Center," Aegis Health Security said in a statement, according to TRN. "The patient is isolated as the CDC follows testing and evaluation protocols."

"Hospital management and health care practitioners may or may not officially confirm or deny the existence of a patient being evaluated at this time," Aegis said of the DC case. "The CDC will make the official determination of whether the patient has MERS. It can be expected that the CDC will have results by the middle of this week based on standard protocols."

The WHO warned at the end of April that cases of MERS could increase with warm weather. “The occurrence of new cases seems to follow a seasonal pattern, with increasing incidence from March‐April onwards. The number of cases sharply increased since mid‐March 2014, essentially in [Saudi Arabia] and UAE, where two important healthcare‐associated outbreaks are occurring,” the WHO said in a press release.

The WHO also noted that as much as 75 percent of reported MERS cases are secondary, meaning they were acquired from another sick person. Both the WHO and CDC believe that the virus originated in camels. “Although camels are suspected to be the primary source of infection for humans, the exact routes of direct or indirect exposure remain unknown. Investigations to identify the source of infection and routes of exposure are still [ongoing],” the WHO said.

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