A case of the sometimes fatal Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, has been reported in Indiana, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
The announcement marks the first time a patient with the infection has been identified in the United States, CDC officials said.
“CDC is working closely with the Indiana State Health Department and hospital to rapidly respond to and investigate this situation to help prevent the spread of the virus,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news briefing.
That said, she added, this first importation of the bug “represents a very low risk to the broader general public.”
The patient is a healthcare provider who had been working in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, before boarding a plane to London on April 24, then flying to Chicago and taking a bus to Indiana. On April 27, the patient began to experience shortness of breath, coughing and fever, common symptoms of the MERS coronavirus.
The patient went to an emergency department at an Indiana hospital the next day and, based on his symptoms and travel history, was tested for the MERS coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. He has been isolated and is in stable condition, Schuchat said.
The high-profile MERS has emerged only in the last two years: The first case cropped up in Saudia Arabia in 2012 and may have originated in camels before jumping to humans. Since then, the disease has infected 262 people in 12 countries; of those, 93 have died, according to the World Health Organization. More than 100 more cases have been reported by various nations’ health departments but are not yet included in the WHO total count.
“We do not know where the virus came from or exactly how it spreads,” Schuchat said.
Since March there has been an uptick in the number of cases reported from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, officials said.
“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS-CoV to make its way to the United States, and we have been preparing for this,” Schuchat said.
The news comes roughly a week after Egypt announced its first case of the virus, in a 27-year-old Egyptian man who had also traveled to Riyadh. That news came five hours after Saudi Arabia announced five more deaths from the disease.