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Federal, state health officials contacting those possibly exposed to MERS virus

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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s a new virus that’s proven deadly overseas, now it’s here in Indiana. The CDC confirms the country’s first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has been found in Munster, Indiana.

We know the patient is an American man. He is a health care worker in Saudi Arabia. He’s in stable condition at Community Hospital in Munster.

While MERS-CoV is rare, it is often deadly, and there is no cure. The CDC is working with the Indiana State Department of Health to try to contain the virus.

State health officials will be very busy over the coming days and weeks. They’re following up with anyone who may’ve had close contact with the patient, in an investigation drawing federal and global attention.

Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana near Chicago is ground zero for the first case of MERS-CoV in the country.

“Those people who are at highest risk for exposure are being actively contacted,” said Pam Pontones, an epidemiologist with the Indiana State Department of Health.

She said what’s underway now is a travel history. Both state and federal officials are examining family members and healthcare workers who may’ve been side-by-side with that sick patient.

“The introduction of MERS-CoV is another reminder that diseases are a plane ride away. While centered in the Arabian peninsula, MERS is now in our heartland,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One April 24th, the patient flew from Saudi Arabia to London, then to Chicago, before taking a bus to Indiana. On April 27th, the patient developed respiratory symptoms and went to the hospital on April 28th.

Health officials in Indiana remain focused on the high-stakes investigation, working along with federal agencies to figure out how the virus spreads. They’re hoping nobody else gets sick.

“Make sure that we can identify anyone who may have potentially been exposed and make sure they’re informed about this potential exposure and the medical follow up,” said Pontones.

FOX 59 has learned the patient is a U.S. citizen who was living and working in Saudi Arabia. He came to the United States for a conference, and when he got ill went to stay with family.