U.S. patient with MERS virus is on the mend

Man in Indiana does not seem to have spread the respiratory illness

A man reported to have the first U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is in isolation and recovering, health officials said in a press conference May 5.

The patient, a U.S. citizen in his 60s, is a health care worker who lives in Saudi Arabia and traveled to Indiana on a planned visit to his family. Although he worked in the country that has been the epicenter of the MERS outbreak, he does not recall treating any patients who had the virus, health officials said. According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, 414 people in that country have contracted the virus since 2012, and 115 people have died.

The man had a low-grade fever before traveling, but his symptoms got worse, and a few days after arriving in Indiana he went to an emergency room at Community Hospital in Munster on April 28. He was treated in private rooms and did not come into contact with other patients, a hospital spokesperson said. On May 2, he was diagnosed with the MERS coronavirus, or MERS CoV (SN Online, 5/2/14).

“We’re not surprised MERS CoV has come to the United States,” said Daniel Feikin, who is leading a team investigating the case for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Infectious diseases do not respect national boundaries.”

The CDC has contacted about three-quarters of the 100 plane and 10 bus passengers who traveled with the patient. None of those people have reported symptoms, but health officials will continue to monitor them. MERS symptoms can appear as soon as two days or as long as two weeks after exposure, but most people who get sick do so within about five days.

The patient, his family and 50 health care workers from the Munster hospital are in isolation at home and will be monitored for two weeks. None of the family members or health workers have tested positive for the MERS virus.

William VanNess, the Indiana state health commissioner, said he recognizes that the specter of a MERS outbreak is frightening, but that quick action by health care professionals seems to have contained a potential outbreak. “MERS picked the wrong hospital, the wrong state and the wrong country to try to get a foothold,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:20 pm on May 5, 2014, to include details about the patient’s age and the timeline of his illness.

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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