MERS Reaches the U.S. for the First Time

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said on Friday that a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in the U.S. for the first time.

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Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said on Friday that a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in the U.S. for the first time. The CDC said the MERS-infected patient is a healthcare worker who came to Indiana from Saudi Arabia, adding that it is collaborating with Indiana health officials to investigate the case. Per the CDC:

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.

MERS, a SARS-like virus that was first detected in 2012, has largely affected patients in Saudi Arabia, but has broken out throughout the Middle East and has made an appearance in Greece, Britain, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries. Since 2012, more than 300 Saudi Arabians were hit with the virus, and local officials have reported a recent surge in patients. Only about two-thirds of those diagnosed with the virus survived.

The CDC explains that MERS is a viral respiratory illness:

It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of these people died.

The CDC National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases Director Dr. Anne Schuchat believes MERS's arrival in the U.S. was inevitable. She told NBC that "In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS to make its way to the United States. We have been preparing since 2012 for this eventuality," but added that this single case doesn't pose a large risk to the public. 

It's not clear how the viral disease, which has been found in bats and camels, is transferred to people. It is, however, known that the virus is extremely contagious and very hard to treat. NBC reports:

The virus can survive on surfaces, and might spread when people touch something contaminated. SARS appears to have spread that way, and many other viruses do, too. CDC and WHO say the virus has spread many times in hospitals, dialysis centers and other healthcare facilities, so they are cautioning health workers to take special precautions.

The World Health Organization warned last week that cases of MERS could spike during the spring.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.