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CDC: Second U.S. MERS Case Confirmed

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

May 12, 2014 -- A second patient in the U.S. has been identified as having the potentially deadly virus known as MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), the CDC announced today.

The patient, like the first one identified earlier this month, is also a health care worker who lives and works in Saudi Arabia. The patient was visiting family in the U.S. He is now in good condition in an Orlando-area hospital. "The patient is isolated and doing well," Tom Frieden, MD, director of the CDC, said at a news conference.

CDC and Florida public health officials declined to identify the new patient or to provide the patient's gender. The patient traveled by plane from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to London May 1, then on to Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando.

The patient went to the emergency room on May 8. The CDC confirmed the MERS tests results on Sunday evening.

Over the next few days, public health officials will notify roughly 500 passengers who were on the U.S. legs of the flights, alerting them to be aware of possible symptoms and to seek medical help if they notice any.

The general public is at low risk for contracting the virus, said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. She also spoke at the news conference. "The virus has not shown the ability to spread from person to person in a community setting. It has been really universally [found] in people who have had very close contact."

The first U.S. case, a patient visiting Indiana, was confirmed last week. The first patient has recovered and was released from an Indiana hospital May 9. No one in contact with that patient has come down with any MERS symptoms.

Increase in MERS Cases

MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There is no vaccine and no known cure.

The MERS virus is related to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus that infected more than 8,000 people worldwide in 2003, killing 774.

To date, 538 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS have been identified worldwide, with 145 deaths, Schuchat said. Most of those cases, 450, have happened in Saudi Arabia, she said.

"Since March, there has been an increase in cases," she said. Public health officials are trying to determine why.

Worldwide, she said, about one-fifth of the MERS cases have occurred in health care workers.

After you're exposed to the virus, symptoms appear about 5 days later, Schuchat said, ''with an outer limit of 14." So most of those passengers on the same May 1 flights as the Orlando patient would be expected to have developed symptoms by now, she said.

The CDC does not suggest people change travel plans. It does advise that travelers going to countries with MERS closely watch their health and practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often and avoid people who are obviously ill.

SOURCES: CDC news conference, May 12, 2014. World Health Organization: "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Summary Literature Update -- As of May 2014."

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