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CDC Announces First Case of MERS Infection in U.S.

Infected traveler hospitalized in Indiana

According to an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a case of infection with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was confirmed May 2 in a traveler to the U.S. This virus is relatively new to humans and was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London, England, and then from London to Chicago, Illinois. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On April 27, the patient began to experience respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. The patient went to the emergency department in an Indiana hospital on April 28 and was admitted on the same day. The patient is now isolated and is in stable condition. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials tested for MERS-CoV. The Indiana state public health laboratory and the CDC confirmed MERS-CoV infection in the patient on the afternoon of May 2.

“It is understandable that some may be concerned about this situation, but this first U.S. case of MERS-CoV infection represents a very low risk to the general public,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.

In some countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, there is no evidence of the sustained spread of MERS-CoV in community settings.

So far, including this U.S. importation, there have been 401 confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection in 12 countries, the CDC says. To date, all reported cases have originated in six countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Most of these people developed severe acute respiratory illness, with fever, cough, and shortness of breath; 93 people died.

Officials do not know where the virus came from or exactly how it spreads. There is no available vaccine or specific treatment recommended for the virus.

In July 2013, the CDC posted checklists and resource lists for health care facilities and providers to assist with preparing to implement infection-control precautions for MERS-CoV.

The CDC advises Americans to help protect themselves from respiratory illnesses by washing their hands often; by avoiding close contact with people who are sick; by avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and/or mouth with unwashed hands; and by disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

The largest reported outbreak to date occurred April through May 2013 in eastern Saudi Arabia and involved 23 confirmed cases in four health care facilities. At this time, the CDC does not recommend that anyone change their travel plans. The World Health Organization (WHO) also has not issued travel health warnings for any country related to MERS-CoV. The CDC advises that anyone who develops fever and cough or shortness of breath within 14 days after traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula should see their doctors and let them know where they travelled.

Source: CDC; May 2, 2014.

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