MERS Update: All Workers Test Negative

Florida, Indiana Hospital Workers All Cleared for Return to Work

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

May 27, 2014 -- All hospital workers in Florida and Indiana who were in contact with the patients diagnosed with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) have been cleared to return to work, hospital officials say.

In Florida, follow-up testing on all 23 health care workers exposed to the MERS patient showed they didn't catch the virus, according to Dain Weister, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health. They were able to return to work May 24.

In Indiana, all 50 employees of Community Hospital in Munster who had direct contact with the patient diagnosed there did not catch MERS either, a second test confirmed, according to the hospital.

MERS first surfaced in Saudi Arabia in 2012. As of May 23, 635 confirmed cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization, with 193 deaths. The death rate of MERS is about 30%.

The virus first appeared in the U.S. May 2, when a health care worker traveled from Saudi Arabia to Indiana, then went to the emergency room in Munster with symptoms. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are typical MERS symptoms.

A second health care worker who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Orlando fell ill upon his arrival in Florida, with health care officials confirming that case May 11.

Both patients have been discharged from the hospital.

A third man from Illinois, who had met with the Indiana MERS patient twice before the patient was hospitalized, tested positive but showed no sign of the illness. Blood tests showed the Illinois man had been exposed to the MERS virus because he developed antibodies to fight it, officials said. But he did not seek or need medical care.

The MERS virus is also known as MERS-CoV, or coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They cause a range of illnesses in people and animals. The source of MERS is not known, according to the CDC, although the virus has been found in camels and a bat. There is no vaccine.

The CDC does not recommend any change in travel plans. It advises travelers to take precautions: Wash hands with soap and water often, and avoid sick people.

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SOURCES: Community Hospital Munster statement, May 12, 2014, updated May 27. Dain Weister, public information office, Florida Department of Health, Orlando. CDC: Coronovirus MERS FAQ."

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