The patient, 44, is a healthcare worker who lives and works in
Saudi Arabia and traveled to the United States to visit relatives.
He was admitted to the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando on May 9.
The case is the second "imported" instance of Middle East
Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, reaching U.S. soil. The first case
was confirmed late last month in Indiana, raising fears about the
global spread of the virus that has no treatment and kills about
one-third of infected patients.
The two cases are not related, said Dr Anne Schuchat, director of
the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new patient traveled on May 1 from Jeddah to London on Saudi
Airlines Flight 113, then changed planes at Heathrow airport and
flew from London to Boston, Public Health England said in statement.
From Boston, the patient took a flight to Atlanta, and then flew to
Orlando. The CDC did not release U.S. flight numbers.
Schuchat said the patient was feeling ill on the flight from Jeddah,
but did not feel sick enough to seek treatment until last Friday.
The CDC confirmed the presence of MERS virus on May 11.
It is not clear in which hospital the patient worked, but Schuchat
said it was likely a facility that was caring for people with MERS.
The CDC said it is not clear whether the person was infectious on
the plane, but it is now contacting some 500 people who traveled on
the same U.S. flights as the health worker "out of an abundance of
caution," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told reporters on a
"We think at least some of the increase in the cases we're hearing
about from the Middle East does have to do with better monitoring
and tracking, and that's a good thing," he said.
The Florida hospital, which is located near the Disney theme park,
is tracking down any of its workers who might have come in contact
with the patient. So far, 16 have been placed in home isolation.
"We do believe there is a low risk the virus is being spread,"
hospital spokesman Geo Morales said, noting the patient's symptoms
were mild when he arrived and that he did not have a cough.
NO CHANGES DETECTED IN VIRUS GENOME
MERS, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, is
a coronavirus from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome, which killed around 800 people worldwide after
first appearing in China in 2002.
The MERS virus first emerged in September 2012 and has since
infected almost 500 people in Saudi Arabia. There have been sporadic
cases across the Middle East, as well as in Europe and Asia.
[to top of second column]
Frieden said the latest U.S. case of MERS was "unwelcome but not
unexpected news," and added it now falls to the U.S. hospital and
healthcare workers in general to observe meticulous infection
control procedures to keep the virus contained.
The CDC now has a team in Saudi Arabia working with "international
partners" to try to help contain the spread of the virus and better
understand how it is transmitted, he said.
So far, an analysis of the genetic sequences of the virus suggest it
has not changed in the past two years.
"That is reassuring," Frieden said.
According to Dr Kevin Sherin, director of the Orange County Health
Department in Orlando, the man, who traveled from Saudi Arabia
alone, should make a full recovery given his mild symptoms.
Sherin said the patient arrived at the hospital emergency room at
12:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and doctors quickly began
considering MERS because the he is a healthcare worker in Saudi
Arabia. He would not say whether the patient is a physician.
Sherin said the man felt poorly for about a week during his stay at
the home of relatives before he brought himself in, and that any
exposure to the general public was minimal.
"He didn't come here to go to theme parks," Sherin added.
(Reporting by Michele Gershberg and Julie Steenhuysen, additional
reporting by Kate Kelland in London and Barbara Liston in Orlando;
Editing by Michele Gershberg, Andre Grenon)
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