First Case of Deadly MERS Virus Emerges in the U.S., CDC Says

May 3, 2014

A mysterious virus that first cropped up in the Middle East two years ago arrived in the U.S. aboard a jetliner 11 days ago.

Health officials confirmed it's the first case of an American inflected with Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, a virus that by one estimate has killed roughly a quarter of the relatively small number of patients confirmed to be infected by it.

The man fell ill after flying to the U.S. late last week from Saudi Arabia where he was a health care worker. He is hospitalized in good condition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana health officials said Friday.

The virus is not highly contagious and this case "represents a very low risk to the broader, general public," Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters during a CDC briefing.

(MORE: Antibiotics Losing Effectiveness, WHO Says)

This file photo shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. (AP Photo/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases via The Canadian Press)

The federal agency plans to track down passengers he may have been in close contact with during his travels; it was not clear how many may have been exposed to the virus.

So far, it is not known how he was infected, Schuchat said.

Saudi Arabia has been at the center of a Middle East outbreak of MERS that began two years ago. The virus has spread among health care workers, most notably at four facilities in that country last spring.

Officials didn't provide details about the American's job in Saudi Arabia or whether he treated MERS patients.

Overall, at least 400 people have had the respiratory illness, and more than 100 people have died. All had ties to the Middle East region or to people who traveled there.

Experts said it was just a matter of time before MERS showed up in the U.S., as it has in Europe and Asia.

"Given the interconnectedness of our world, there's no such thing as 'it stays over there and it can't come here,'" said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University MERS expert.

(MORE: How Disaster Changes the Brain)

MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which caused some 800 deaths globally in 2003.

The MERS virus has been found in camels, but officials don't know how it is spreading to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. Not all those exposed to the virus become ill.

But it appears to be unusually lethal — by some estimates, it has killed nearly a third of the people it sickened. That's a far higher percentage than seasonal flu or other routine infections. But it is not as contagious as flu, measles or other diseases. There is no vaccine or cure and there's specific treatment except to relieve symptoms.

Federal and state health officials on Friday released only limited information about the U.S. case: On April 24, the man flew from Riyadh — Saudi Arabia's capital and largest city — to the United States, with a stop in London. He landed in Chicago and took a bus to nearby Indiana. He didn't become sick until Sunday, the CDC said.

He went to the emergency room at Community Hospital in Munster the next day with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. He was admitted and tested for the MERS virus because he had traveled from the Middle East. The hospital said he was in good condition.

As a precaution, the hospital said it would monitor the man's family and health care workers who treated him for any signs of infection.

There's been a recent surge in MERS illnesses in Saudi Arabia; cases have tended to increase in the spring. Experts think the uptick may partly be due to more and better surveillance. Columbia's Lipkin has an additional theory — there may be more virus circulating in the spring, when camels are born.

The CDC has issued no warnings about travel to countries involved in the outbreak. However, anyone who develops fever, cough or shortness of breath within two weeks of traveling in or near the Arabian Peninsula should see their doctor and mention their travel history.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

MORE: Diseases You Can Have, And Not Know It

When an outbreak of an infectious disease occurs – thinks SARS or the new MERS virus – human carriers who show no outward signs of the disease spread the infection. Click through to find out which other diseases can be silent, asymptomatic killers.


Ad Blocker Enabled

Featured Blogs

96L Off the Coast of Africa Growing More Organized

By Dr. Jeff Masters
July 28, 2016

A strong tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on Wednesday morning has become more organized over the far eastern Atlantic, and has the potential to develop into a tropical depression in the coming days as it tracks west-northwestward at 10 - 15 mph into the middle Atlantic.

Hottest Reliably Measured Air Temperatures on Earth

By Christopher C. Burt
July 22, 2016

As Jeff Masters mentioned in his recent blog, a temperature of 54.0°C (129.2°F) was observed at Mitribah, Kuwait on July 21st. According to the Kuwait Meteorological Department this was the hottest temperature ever measured in the country (a reading of 54.4°C/129.9°F observed at the same site on July 16, 2010 has been disallowed as a result of a faulty sensor). The 54.0°C reading also is a new record for Asia and ties a similar reading at Death Valley (on June 30, 2013) as the hottest reliably measured temperature on Earth. The key word here is ‘reliably’. Many hotter temperatures have been reported from around the world in years past. However, all of these have credibility issues. In that vein I am going to revisit a blog I first posted on WU in October 2010 listing all the various claims to temperature readings at or above 54°C (129.2°F). In the years since I made that post I’ve learned more about some of these claims and have thus updated my entries and ‘validity’ scores as a result.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.