First it was Indiana, now it’s in Florida. The deadly MERS virus has popped up for the second time in the United States after first making an appearance earlier this month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health announced Monday that it was investigating the second case of “imported” Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
Since MERS-CoV was discovered two years ago in Saudi Arabia, 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.
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. There is no known cure.
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.
Dr. Daniel Feikin, an epidemiologist with the CDC, said there are no known cases of the virus spreading through casual contact, but it was not surprising MERS had reached the United States.
“We know that infectious diseases do not respect international boundaries. In this day and age of global travel and trade, infectious diseases can spread almost anywhere,” Feikin said.
The first American citizen, a health care worker, diagnosed the mysterious virus was isolated in an Indiana hospital after he contracted MERS flying from Saudi Arabia back into Chicago last month. Earlier last week, it was reported that the man was improving and expected to go home soon.
While health officials said the virus is not highly contagious, the hospital isolated at home 50 employees identified as having come in contact with the man before he was diagnosed, said Dr. Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer at Community Hospital, where the man has been treated.
Also as a precaution, members of the man’s family have been told to stay home and wear masks if they leave, Kumar said.
No health workers or family members who’ve had contact with the patient have tested positive for the virus, which has an incubation period of two to 14 days and appears in most cases within five days, said Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner William VanNess II.
VanNess II said discovery of the MERS case in Indiana was “a scary situation.”
“There are a lot of unknowns as you’ll find out about this particular virus,” he said. “As a physician, the father of five sons and grandfather to six, I understand the concerns and worries.”
Watch WPTV-TV’s report about the latest case reported in Florida:
The Associated Press contributed this report.