Second case of MERS confirmed in U.S.

Posted at 12:37 PM, May 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-12 12:37:20-04

(CNN) — There is a second confirmed case of Middle East respiratory syndrome imported into the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday.

Officials from the CDC and the Florida Department of Health are investigating. A news conference is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

The first U.S. case was reported this month in Indiana. The second case has similar circumstances, according to the CDC, involving travel to Saudi Arabia.

The patient in Indiana was released from a hospital Friday into home isolation, according to state health officials.

He is an American health care provider who had been working in Saudi Arabia and was on a planned visit to Indiana to see his family.

No patients at the Indiana hospital had close contact with the man, who was in a private triage unit and admitted to a private bed on a general medical floor within three hours of showing up at the facility, Dr. Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer with Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, said last Monday.

The man’s family brought him in after he complained of flu-like symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing and fever, officials said. They told medical staff he had been in Saudi Arabia.

The virus poses a “very low risk to the broader general public,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general with the U.S. Public Health Service and director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said when the Indiana case was reported on May 2.

The man traveled to Indiana by plane and bus, health officials have said. They were tracking down other passengers and said last Monday that many had been tested and none were positive for MERS.

Scientists don’t know exactly how MERS spreads, but they think it is through close contact, including contact with bodily fluids, from an infected person.

MERS first emerged in 2011, with the first cases being diagnosed in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012. As of Friday, the World Health Organization said there have been 536 cases in 17 countries, including 145 deaths.

Limited human-to-human transmission of the disease has also occurred in other countries — meaning some people who traveled to the Middle East gave the virus to others, as appears to have happened in the U.S. cases.

The virus is also known as MERS-CoV, since it is a coronavirus, the same group of viruses as the common cold. It attacks the respiratory system, according to the CDC. Symptoms can lead to pneumonia or kidney failure.

Testing for MERS involves looking for the virus’s molecular structure in a patient’s nose or blood. While the patient in Indiana was the first MERS case on U.S. soil, the CDC has been preparing for such a scenario and had been conducting an awareness campaign with hospitals and doctors since MERS emerged.

There are no travel restrictions to the Arabian Peninsula; however, the CDC suggests that people who visit there monitor their health and watch for any flulike symptoms. If you do feel unwell after such a trip, be sure to tell your doctor about your travel.

There is no vaccine or special treatment for MERS. Doctors say they believe the Indiana patient’s quick diagnosis and care dramatically increased his chances for getting better.

No one knows exactly how this virus originated, but evidence is emerging implicating camels. In a recently published study in mBio, researchers said they isolated live MERS virus from two single-humped camels, known as dromedaries. They found multiple substrains in the camel viruses, including one that perfectly matches a substrain isolated from a human patient.

The same group of researchers reported in February that nearly three-quarters of camels in Saudi Arabia tested positive for past exposure to the MERS coronavirus.

CNN’s Miriam Falco, Elizabeth Landau and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.