A deadly virus from the Middle East has been found in the U.S. for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.
The patient, an American health-care provider who recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, flew from Riyadh to London to Chicago on April 24 and then took a bus to Indiana. The patient fell ill on April 27 and was admitted to a hospital the next day.
Now isolated in an Indiana hospital, the patient is being “well cared for,” Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing. Shuchat would not identify exactly where the patient lives or where the person is being treated.
The illness, known as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, has been responsible for 401 cases in 12 countries and 93 deaths, the Atlanta-based CDC said in a statement today. It was first detected two years ago. The CDC is investigating the U.S. case to determine who may have come in contact with the patient, officials said during the briefing.
“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS-CoV to make it the United States and we have been preparing,” Schuchat said. “The virus has not shown an ability to spread easily from person to person in a community setting.”
She said she expects health-care providers that have come in contact with the Indiana patient might come down with the virus as well. MERS causes severe respiratory illness including fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“The patient is requiring oxygen support at this time,” Shuchat said. The person doesn’t require a ventilator and “is getting excellent care,” she said.
The origin of the virus is unknown, Schuchat said, though there are theories it is linked to camels. Health officials said they don’t know where the virus came from or how it spread. There is no vaccine or specific treatment recommended for the virus.
Schuchat said the virus “represents a very low risk to the broader general public.” When it has spread outside the Arabian peninsula, she said, cases have been confined to family members and health-care workers who had close contact with the original patients.
“The virus has not shown an ability to spread easily from person to person in a community setting,” she said.
There was an increase in MERS case in March reported from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, she said.
“This case reminds us that we are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. “We can break the chain of transmission in this case through focused efforts here and abroad.”
People who are elderly or who have pre-existing health problems and weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the virus, Shuchat said. Reports from the Arabian peninsula “suggest there are asymptomatic patients,” which would mean the overall death rate is lower.