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 an Orlando, FL hospital last week on May 9th, and is said to currently be in good condition.
MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a deadly virus first discovered in the Middle East. The first U.S. case was confirmed late last month in Indiana.
According to public health reports, this latest 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. From Boston, the patient took a flight to Atlanta, and then flew to Orlando.
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, and noted that the two cases are not related.
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 conference call.
“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.
What Is MERS?
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 has no treatment and kills about one-third of infected patients.
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.
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.