Saturday, May 17, 2014

Third US MERS Case is Home Grown

An Illinois man is the first domestic MERS case in the USA
A man from the US state of Illinois contracted the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus (MERS) from a previously confirmed case, marking the third MERS infection in the USA and the first confirmed person-to-person transmission in the country, according to this statement from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The man had contact in business meetings on two occasions with an Indiana man, the first US case, who had recently returned from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he was a health care worker.

During the meetings, the men were in close proximity, within 6 feet of each other and met for 30 to 40 minutes. They reportedly shook hands.

The man in the newest case originally tested negative for the virus but further testing proved he had previously been exposed and recovered without becoming ill. He might have experienced a slight runny nose, but it is unknown if it was related to the illness.

"These laboratory test results are preliminary and suggest the the Illinois resident probably got the virus from the Indiana patient, said the CDC statement, "the person's body developed antibodies to fight the virus. "It's possible that as the investigation continues others may also test positive for MERS-CoV infection but not get sick."

The news is both good and bad. It may be that MERS is easier to transmit than believed, but less virulent than feared.

Family members and caregivers have been considered most at risk from secondary infections, but it may be that more casual contact can spread the virus. MERS may be more transmissible than thought, but many infected could display few or no symptoms of disease.

"There is evidence that there is a broader spectrum of illness with MERS than was initially suspected, that there can be no symptoms," said the MERS Incident Response Manager for the CDC, David Swerdlow, "That could be because only those with severe cases have been tested for the virus up until now."

The Illinois man is isolating himself and wearing a mask as health officials screen his contacts for signs of MERS.

MERS-CoV has sickened hundreds of people worldwide, and approximately a third of those confirmed with the illness have died. The vast majority of those infected had ties to Saudi Arabia or another country in the Arabian Peninsula where the disease has been found.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough and shortness of breath in a person who has recently travelled to the Middle East or had contact with someone who travelled there.

Some victims suffer from diarrhea and nausea and vomiting. Severe cases can result in pneumonia and kidney failure. Most of the people who have died from MERS suffered from some kind of underlying medical condition or weakened immune system.

The CDC reiterated its' advice to the general public for avoiding MERS and other contagious diseases: wash hands regularly, avoid touching your face, avoid contact with people who appear sick and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

Travellers have not been advised to alter their plans but the region is currently under a Level 2 Alert from the CDC. This means visitors should "Practice enhanced precautions"

If visiting countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula, be alert to your health during and after your trip.

Make sure your immunizations are current. Be sure to visit a doctor promptly if you develop a fever, shortness of breath or cough within 14 days and be sure to tell your doctor about your recent travel.

More information for travellers on MERS in the Arabian Peninsula from the CDC is available here.

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