On May 2, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced that they had confirmed the first case of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the United States. That patient was in Indiana — he had travelled from Riyadh via London and Chicago.
This afternoon, the CDC confirmed the second case of MERS in the U.S., this time in a Florida patient who travelled to Orlando from Jeddah, via London, Boston, and Atlanta.
The emergence of another confirmed MERS case in the U.S. is “unwelcome but not unexpected,” said CDC director Tom Frieden on a press call today, adding that the risk to the general public is still “extremely low.” This case is not connected to the case in Indiana, which has not led to any additional infections in the U.S.
The Florida patient travelled from Saudi Arabia on May 1, began feeling ill on the flight to London, but did not feel sick enough to seek medical care until May 8. At that time, the patient entered the emergency room at an as-yet-unidentified hospital in Orlando.
The CDC is working to contact the more than 500 people who were on those flights with the patient, although MERS has only been spread in very close contact, among people caring for a sick patient. The risk to anyone who travelled with a MERS patient is believed to be very low.
This second patient is a healthcare worker who was working at hospital in Saudi Arabia, which matches the profile of the Indiana patient. He or she lives and works in Jeddah, was in Orlando visiting family, and did not visit any theme parks.
The patient has been placed in isolation in the hospital and is doing well. The family of the patient and the healthcare workers who had contact with him or her before MERS was diagnosed have all been instructed to stay at home and to wear a mask if they have to go out. This precaution will be in place for 14 days, the incubation period for MERS.
The virus that causes MERS is related to SARS. It’s less contagious but more frequently fatal, and most cases so far have been found in Saudi Arabia. Since it first emerged in humans in 2012, there have been 538 lab-confirmed cases and 145 deaths.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, noted on the press call that nobody is yet sure why there has been a notable spike in MERS cases since March 2014, but that investigations are ongoing.
“Because we are likely to have additional importations of MERS, we are asking healthcare providers to be vigilant,” Schuchat said. Anyone with pneumonia or acute respiratory distress who has recently been to the Arabiana Peninsula will be tested for MERS.
While signs in airports will remind people to monitor any respiratory symptoms and customs staff have been “refreshed” on disease protocols, the CDC is not doing routine screening of people at airports or suggesting any widespread travel restrictions.
Still, Frieden added, “since there are healthcare workers travelling back and forth, we would not be surprised to see more cases.” Everyone is advised to stay away from sick people and wash hands frequently.
The CDC confirmed today that they have tested more than 150 suspected cases in the U.S., out of an “abundance of caution,” but that only these two — in Indiana and in Florida — have turned out to MERS.
The hospital in Orlando plans to provide more information about the Florida patient later today.
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