|MERS Corona virus|
The suspected cases had contact with an Orlando man who became ill with the virus en route to Florida from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he is a health care worker and has worked with MERS victims.
Both developed flu-like symptoms after caring for the man at Dr P Phillips Hospital where he sought treatment on May 8.
A total of twenty hospital staff from two locations have been furloughed for two weeks and the remaining eighteen are undergoing testing. The man's family members are also isolated at home while being screened for the virus.
The infected man, the second case in the US, travelled from Jeddah to London then through Boston and Atlanta en route to Orlando, Florida on April 30. He developed a fever, chills and slight cough during the flight. Health officials are seeking approximately 500 fellow passengers who may have had contact with him on en route.
The man also accompanied a friend to the Orlando Regional Medical Center on May 5 on an unrelated matter. Five of the furloughed health care workers who are currently being tested are from that facility.
Media reports the man waited four hours in a crowded hospital emergency room before he was seen by a doctor and an additional eight hours passed before the possible MERS case was identified and the man was placed in isolation.
According to the World Health Organization, about a quarter of new MERS infections occur in health care workers and they account for the majority of secondary infections.
Hospitals have been the source of several MERS clusters, including large outbreaks in the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh. WHO blamed the outbreaks on 'breaches' in infection control protocols by medical staff.
To date, the Saudi Ministry of Health reports 520 cases of MERS and 163 deaths in the Kingdom. Hundreds of cases have been reported in the last six weeks, including more than 150 new infections since May 1.
Despite replacing the Director of King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, increased emphasis on infection control procedures and a recent visit by a team of WHO specialists, health care workers continue to spread the virus.
The man, a health care worker from Jeddah who was directly exposed to MERS patients, did not wear a mask despite developing a fever and becoming ill during travel. He did not seek treatment on arrival in Florida, instead visited a local hospital with a friend on an unrelated matter.
Three days later he sought treatment at another hospital where he spent hours in a crowded emergency room and hours more before his travel history raised concern about the MERS virus and he was finally isolated.
Despite repeated pleas from WHO and worldwide concern, this single health care worker could have exposed hundreds of people over several continents before he was quarantined.
He knew he had been exposed to MERS in Jeddah and may have been feverish and contagious for a week before presenting himself at an Orlando emergency room.
The Orlando medical facility dropped the ball by allowing him to come in contact with so many others for so many hours before realizing the risk he posed.
Health care workers must take personal responsibility for the risks they may pose to others through the course of their work. Hospitals must train staff to isolate potentially contagious patients more quickly and recognize less common diseases.
This is especially vital in cities with large numbers of international visitors, like Orlando, home to Disney World, Universal Studios and many other popular tourist destinations.
Health care workers are the first line of defence against emerging and established infectious diseases. The public must be able to count on them to prevent dangerous illnesses from migrating from hospitals to homes.
With the explosion of new cases, especially in previously unaffected countries, and inconsistent infection control procedures in health care facilities, the world could be witnessing a MERS pandemic in the making.