A 44-year-old Saudi Arabian healthcare worker travelling to the US has been diagnosed with the MERS virus, as confirmed by US health officials in Florida. The Saudi national is being treated in an Orlando area hospital and is said to be in good condition. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus is commonly found in camels, but the virus is lethal to humans. Out of 482 Saudi confirmed cases, 147 victims have perished. The US now has two confirmed MERS cases. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced the first case of MERS in the US on May 2. The patient is a healthcare worker from Saudi Arabia who was diagnosed in Indiana.
Healthcare officials believe the virus is not spread by casual contact. Those contracting the virus are healthcare workers with significant contact with those who are sick. Residents of Central Florida are not believed to have a higher risk of contracting MERS due to the newly confirmed case.
The Orlando-bound Saudi patient took a flight from Jeddah to London on May 1, then embarked on connecting flights to Boston and Atlanta before arriving in Orlando. He is reported to have felt poorly while travelling but did not seek treatment until May 9. Passengers on his flights are being notified of the potential of having caught the virus. Health officials do not believe the 500 people being notified have a high risk of contracting the disease given that the patient did not exhibit a cough at the time of the flights and his symptoms were considered mild even when he did enter the hospital.
MERS is a coronavirus, which is a specific type of virus named for its distinction shape. The coronaviruses have surface spikes that look like crowns. Coronaviruses are common and often result in respiratory problems. The MERS virus is characterized by acute respiratory problems and coughing. The virus has been found in camels and bats in the Middle East, although it has not yet been determined if the animals were the source of the virus in the current outbreak.
To protect against contracting a coronavirus, the CDC advises frequent hand washing and avoiding those who are sick. The CDC also says to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth. Typically, the risk of contracting a coronavirus is highest in the late fall and winter months.
The CDC has a team in Saudi Arabia to try to learn more about the current virus and how to combat it. No virus exists to treat the virus at this point. The Saudi man treated in Indiana recovered and was sent home once he tested as virus-free. Confirmed cases have occurred throughout the Middle East, plus France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The virus was first noticed in 2012.
CDC officials are watchful of the MERS situation but have not hit the panic button as the second US case was confirmed in Florida. They still consider the virus to be a threat only to those having sustained contact with infected persons. Nevertheless, health officials are attempting to learn all they can about the virus in case it becomes more widespread in the US.
By William Costolo