CHICAGO, Ill. – (Chicago Tribune – May 2, 2014) – The first U.S. case of a respiratory virus that has caused deadly outbreaks in the Middle East is a man who traveled through O’Hare International Airport on his way to Indiana, but officials said the man was in good condition and the risk of others being infected was small.
The man, who was not identified, was being treated for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) at Community Hospital in Munster, which said in a statement it is “maintaining appropriate isolation protocols for the protection of health care staff.”
“Community Hospital has been working cooperatively with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent and the Indiana State Department of Health regarding tracking of patient family members and monitoring of exposed health care workers,” it added. “This patient was not out in the local community and, therefore, any public exposure was minimal.”
The man is a health care worker who had been in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He flew to London, then grabbed a flight to O’Hare on April 24 and took a bus to Indiana, according to the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The man began to experience increasing respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing, and fever three days later, according to the Indiana health department. He went to the emergency room at Community Hospital on the evening of April 28 was was admitted.
“In an abundance of caution, the exposed family members and health care workers will be monitored daily throughout the 14-day incubation period to watch for the development of any signs or symptoms of MERS,” the hospital said.
CDC said it will reach out to passengers of the plane and bus, though health officials “do not consider passengers on the flight or bus to be close contacts of the patient and therefore are not at high risk.” The CDC said it will begin contacting the plane and bus passengers Saturday.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair reiterated that “there is no reason to suspect any current risk to travelers or employees at O’Hare Airport at this time. We will continue to work closely with the CDC and IDPH.”
MERS was first detected in 2012 and has caused outbreaks in the Middle East and sporadic cases around the world.
Although the vast majority of MERS cases have been in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, the discovery of sporadic cases in Britain, Greece, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries have raised concerns about the potential global spread of the disease by infected airline passengers.
Scientists are not yet sure how the MERS virus is transmitted to people, but it has been found in bats and camels, and many experts say camels are the most likely animal reservoir from which humans are becoming infected.
The virus is similar to the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which emerged in China in 2002/2003 and killed some 800 people – around a tenth of those it infected.
The virus spreads from ill people to others through close contact, but federal health officials say the virus hasn’t been shown to spread “in a sustained way in communities.”
Most people with confirmed infections developed severe respiratory illnesses with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Roughly 30 percent of those people died, the CDC said.
The World Health Organization says it is not always possible to identify patients with the virus early, as symptoms are usually mild or unusual.
For that reason, the WHO says, health care facilities caring for infected patients must take measures to decrease the risk of transmission to other patients, health care workers and visitors.