Global health alert: The camel-borne respiratory disease popularly known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus or MERS-CoV has now spread from the Middle East to the US.
Federal health officials announced on Friday that the first case of the deadly respiratory virus that initially surfaced in the Middle East two years ago has been diagnosed in the United States.
The case had been detected in the state of Indiana, where an American had been hospitalised after returning to the US a week ago. The virus involved a US citizen who worked as a healthcare worker in Saudi Arabia, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’ve anticipated MERS reaching the US, and we’ve prepared for and are taking swift action,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “We’re doing everything possible with hospital, local, and state health officials to find people who may have had contact with this person so they can be evaluated as appropriate. This case reminds us that we are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. We can break the chain of transmission in this case through focused efforts here and abroad.”
The Indiana State Department of Health said the man visited the emergency department at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, on April 28 and was admitted that same day after complaints of respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Meanwhile, Public Health England said the male patient traveled via a British Airways flight on April 24 from Riyadh to London, where he changed flights at Heathrow airport to fly to the United States. He landed in Chicago and took a bus to an undisclosed city in Indiana.
“The risk of the infection being passed to other passengers on Flight 262 is extremely low,” the body said. “However, as a precautionary measure, Public Health England has contacted UK passengers who were sitting in the vicinity of the affected passenger to provide health information.”
Due to his travel history, Indiana health officials tested him for MERS, and sent the samples to the CDC, which confirmed the presence of the virus on Friday.
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.
“The virus has not shown the ability to spread easily in a community setting,” Dr. Anne Schuchat said.
Schuchat said the patient was now in stable condition and there are no other suspected cases of MERS at the current time. Schuchat chose not to name the Indiana hospital, provide the patient’s age or gender, or say what role the person serves as a health care professional.
So far, including this U.S. importation, there have been 401 confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection in 12 countries. To date, all reported cases have originated in six countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Most of these people developed severe acute respiratory illness, with fever, cough, and shortness of breath; 93 people died. Officials do not know where the virus came from or exactly how it spreads. There is no available vaccine or specific treatment recommended for the virus.
MERS is a coronavirus similar to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed hundreds of people, mainly in China, in 2002 and 2003.