Man Tests Positive For MERS Virus Without Falling Ill
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[May 19, 2014]
By Nick Carey
CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois resident
tested positive for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome after being in
contact with an infected patient, though he did not show signs of
illness, U.S. health officials said on Saturday.
The man likely contracted MERS from a man in Indiana who was
hospitalized in late April with the first known U.S. case of the
The Illinois resident's lack of symptoms may shed light on milder
forms of the deadly virus, which emerged in the Middle East in 2012
and has infected more than 500 patients in Saudi Arabia alone. It
kills about 30 percent of those who are infected.
Researchers at the forefront of the global MERS response said this
week they were investigating whether people infected with MERS who
have no symptoms could still pass the virus on to others.
"There is evidence there is a broader spectrum of MERS" than first
expected, said Dr. David Swerdlow of the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, who is leading the U.S. response to MERS.
The Illinois resident did not seek or require medical care and is
reported to be feeling well, but officials involved in investigating
the first case have been monitoring his health since May 3. A blood
test on Friday showed he had developed antibodies to MERS.
CDC officials explained that the blood test is not sufficient to
consider him a confirmed case of MERS because it detected only
antibodies, not the live virus. Swerdlow said the agency would
discuss with the World Health Organization its system of classifying
MERS cases to account for milder cases.
On April 25, the Illinois man had a 40-minute face-to-face meeting
with the Indiana patient, a business associate, Swerdlow said. The
two men shook hands but the Indiana patient did not have a cough at
The Illinois resident has been instructed to avoid other people or
wear a face mask. While the Indiana patient was a healthcare worker
who had recently arrived in the United States from Saudi Arabia, the
Illinois resident had no recent history of travel outside the
country, Swerdlow said.
The first case of MERS was confirmed in Indiana in early May and the
second, in Florida, on May 11. Swerdlow said 50 people who came into
contact with the Indiana patient have tested negative for MERS but
are undergoing more tests. Health officials are now trying to
identify and monitor close contacts of the Illinois resident.
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"It's possible that as the investigation continues, others may also
test positive for MERS-CoV infection but not get sick," Swerdlow
The disease causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia and
reported cases have tripled in the past several weeks. The virus is
moving out of the Arabian peninsula as infected individuals travel
from the region.
Dutch officials reported their first two cases this week. Infections
have also turned up in Britain, Greece, France, Italy, Malaysia and
As MERS is an entirely new virus, there are no drugs to treat it and
no vaccines capable of preventing its spread. It is a close cousin
of the virus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS,
which killed about 800 people worldwide after it first appeared in
China in 2002.
(Additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by
Michele Gershberg and Lisa Shumaker)
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