By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, May 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Federal health officials on Friday reported the first U.S. case of a deadly respiratory virus that began appearing in the Middle East two years ago.
The unidentified patient is being treated at a hospital in Indiana. The patient had recently been in Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), officials said.
The patient is in isolation and in stable condition. Because of the patient’s symptoms — shortness of breath, coughing and fever — and travel history, Indiana health officials tested the patient for MERS and confirmed the infection Friday afternoon, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, called the infection “a very low risk to the general public.” In some countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. But, there’s currently no evidence of sustained spread of MERS in general settings, the CDC said.
CDC and Indiana health officials don’t yet know how the patient became infected with the virus. It could have happened in Saudi Arabia, officials said, adding that they don’t know how many people had close contact with the patient.
The patient took a plane on April 24 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London, England, then from London to Chicago. The patient next took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On April 27, the patient started experiencing “respiratory symptoms,” and was admitted to the Indiana hospital the next day, the CDC said.
To date, there have been 401 confirmed cases of MERS in 12 countries, but all the cases originated in six countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Ninety-three people have died. Officials don’t know where the virus came from or how it spreads. Currently, there is no available vaccine or recommended treatment for the virus, the CDC said.
“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS to make its way to the United States,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. “We have been preparing since 2012 for this possibility.”
Camels have been identified as carriers of MERS, but it’s not known how the virus is being spread to people.
For more on MERS, visit the World Health Organization.