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Second Confirmed U.S. MERS Case

Health officials report that a patient in a Florida hospital has tested positive for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.

By | May 12, 2014

Micrograph of MERS-CoV particles (yellow)FLICKR, NIAID

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the Florida Department of Health, today (May 12) announced the second imported case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection in the country. Health officials have confirmed that a patient being treated in a Florida hospital tested positive for MERS-CoV. This second U.S. case is “unwelcome but not unexpected news,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters during a press briefing today.

The patient is a health-care worker who resides and works in Saudi Arabia and who traveled from the Middle East to Florida on May 1. According to the CDC, the patient was admitted to the emergency room on May 8. The patient arrived in the U.S. by plane, making stops in London, Boston, and Atlanta before reaching Orlando. Although the CDC stressed that the risk of person-to-person transmission is low, the agency is reaching out to more than 500 people who may have been in contact with the patient.

Earlier this month (May 2), a patient who returned to Indiana after having traveled to Saudi Arabi marked the first case of MERS-CoV in the U.S. “We dispatched a team to Indiana last week to help contain infection and learn more about the virus,” Frieden said today. “We have sequenced the Indiana patient’s virus and have not seen big differences” between it and others isolated in Saudi Arabia, he added. “One of the essential questions to ask is: Did the virus change? . . . It doesn’t appear that it has, and that’s reassuring.”

“This new [Florida] import is not linked to the patient who was cared for in Indiana,” said Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during the press conference.

While most of the 538 total lab-confirmed MERS-CoV infection cases to date were reported in Saudi Arabia (where the virus is thought to have emerged and can be readily found in camels), to date MERS has been detected in 12 countries.

“Our experience with MERS so far suggests that the risk to the public is relatively low,” Frieden told reporters. 

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