CDC: First US case of deadly virus MERS reported in Indiana

Above: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Transmission electron micrograph of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

MUNSTER, Ind. (May 2, 2014) — The first U.S. case of MERS-CoV has been reported in Indiana, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The patient is currently being treated at Community Hospital in Munster.

MERS-CoV, short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a type of coronavirus. The incubation period for MERS is 5 days.

CDC  and the Indiana State Department of Heath are conducting a joint investigation of the first case of MERS-CoV in the United States. MERS-CoV, a virus new to humans, was first reported in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012.

The Indiana MERS case brings the total confirmed cases worldwide to 401. Twelve countries have reported cases.

The CDC and Indiana health officials say the patient is a health care provider who recently traveled from Saudi Arabia. They are calling the case a “rapidly evolving situation.” The CDC also says they would not be surprised if additional MERS cases are identified. They are approaching the situation with “an abundance of caution.”

The patient flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London, England and then to Chicago on April 24. From Chicago the patient took a bus to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. The patient went to an emergency department in an Indiana hospital on April 28th and was admitted on that same day. The patient is being well cared for and is isolated.

The Indiana Department of Health says the patient is a U.S. citizen but worked in Saudi Arabia. The patient was in town for a health conference. Family members have been notified.

Community Hospital in Munster has contacted all high-risk individuals. In an abundance of caution, individuals who visited the Emergency Department (ED) of Community Hospital in Munster between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on April 28, 2014 should watch for signs and symptoms.

If you visited the ED during this time and begin experiencing symptoms, please call your healthcare provider and let them know about your possible exposure to MERS-CoV.

The patient is in the hospital in stable condition and requires oxygen.

“We’ve anticipated MERS reaching the US, and we’ve prepared for and are taking swift action,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.  “We’re doing everything possible with hospital, local, and state health officials to find people who may have had contact with this person so they can be evaluated as appropriate.  This case reminds us that we are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.  We can break the chain of transmission in this case through focused efforts here and abroad.”

Since the first documented cases in spring 2012, MERS has sickened at least 339 people in Saudi Arabia alone and killed nearly a third of them, according to the country’s Ministry of Health.

“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, assistant surgeon general and director of 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 currently no evidence of sustained spread of MERS-CoV in community settings.

Federal, state, and local health officials are taking action to minimize the risk of spread of the virus.  The Indiana hospital is using full precautions to avoid exposure within the hospital and among healthcare professionals and other people interacting with the patient, as recommended by CDC.

Q&A about MERS from the CDC:

Q: What is MERS?

A: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness. MERS is caused by a coronavirus called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV).

Q: What is MERS-CoV?

A: MERS-CoV is a beta coronavirus. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. MERS-CoV used to be called “novel coronavirus,” or “nCoV”. It is different from other coronaviruses that have been found in people before.

Q: Is MERS-CoV the same as the SARS virus?

A: No. MERS-CoV is not the same coronavirus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. However, like the SARS virus, MERS-CoV is most similar to coronaviruses found in bats. CDC is still learning about MERS.

Q: What are the symptoms of MERS?

A: Most people who got infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About half of them died. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.

Q: Does MERS-CoV spread from person to person?

A: MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact.[1] Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in several countries are being investigated.

Q: How can I help protect myself?

A: CDC advises that people follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

Q: Is there a vaccine?

A: No, but CDC is discussing with partners the possibility of developing one.

Q: What are the treatments?

A: There are no specific treatments recommended for illnesses caused by MERS-CoV. Medical care is supportive and to help relieve symptoms.

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