A healthcare worker who had traveled to Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the first U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Virus (MERS), an often fatal illness, raising new concerns about the rapid spread of such diseases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.
The male patient traveled via a British Airways flight on April 24 from Riyadh to London, where he changed flights at Heathrow airport to fly to the United States. He landed in Chicago and took a bus to an undisclosed city in Indiana.
On April 27, he experienced respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, the man visited the emergency department at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, on April 28 and was admitted that same day.
Because of his travel history, Indiana health officials tested him for MERS, and sent the samples to the CDC, which confirmed the presence of the virus on Friday.
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. It was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call the first U.S. case of MERS was "of great concern because of its virulence," proving fatal in about a third of infections.
She said the case represents "a very low risk to the broader general public," but MERS has been shown to spread to healthcare workers and there are no known treatments for the virus.
Schuchat said the patient was now in stable condition and there are no other suspected cases of MERS at the current time.
The CDC declined to identify the patient by name or say where he was being treated. It also declined to say on which airlines or bus line the patient traveled. Schuchat said the CDC was working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to contact individuals who may have been exposed to the patient during his travels.
In Britain, public health officials said they were contacting any passengers who had been sitting near the patient.
Greg Cunningham, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, said that the department "has been advised that there is no reason to suspect any risk at O'Hare," Chicago's main international airport. "There has only been one incident confirmed to have MERS, and he