First MERS case found in the U.S.

Patient in Indiana with new respiratory disease had traveled from Saudi Arabia

A health care worker who traveled from Saudi Arabia to the United States has contracted the MERS coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced May 2. The virus is a relative of SARS and causes respiratory infections including a severe pneumonia known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

The virus is inefficient at spreading among people, says Vincent Munster, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Hamilton, Mont. “The average American right now should not be too overly worried.”

The patient traveled by air from Riyadh to London and then to Chicago on April 24. From there, the person boarded a bus and traveled to Indiana. On April 27, the patient started coughing, sneezing and became short of breath. The person went to an emergency room at an Indiana hospital the next day and was admitted. On May 2, the Indiana state public health lab and the CDC confirmed that the patient was infected with the MERS coronavirus. Officials don’t know how many people the person came into contact with before diagnosis.

Since March 2012, the virus has infected at least 463 people worldwide and killed at least 133. This is the first recorded case in the United States, but other countries outside the Arabian Peninsula have also had cases when infected travelers returned from the region (SN: 3/23/13, p. 5).

In the last month, major MERS outbreaks have been recorded in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, especially among health care workers. The reason for the surge is unknown.

Tina Hesman Saey

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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