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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC alerts travelers to MERS virus case

by Jenn Stanley
May 3, 2014

Passengers on a London-to-Chicago flight and on a bus from Chicago to Indiana with the man suffering from a rare but deadly respiratory virus were being contacted Saturday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though the CDC has taken this precaution, officials said these passengers are not at high risk, as the virus is believed to be spread through close contact.

The man, whose identity has not been disclosed, is being treated for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, commonly called MERS, at Community Hospital in Munster, Ind., and is currently listed in good condition. He developed respiratory symptoms on April 27, and visited the emergency room on April 28. He was admitted the same day.

The incubation period for the virus is 5 days. According to the CDC, the man is a health care provider who was working in Saudi Arabia. He flew from Riyadh to London and then on to Chicago, landing at O’Hare International Airport on April 24.

“We are still working with the CDC and the Indiana State Department of Public Health to contact those on the plane and the bus with this patient,” Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman at the Illinois Department of Public Health, said. “We are here in a supportive role and have a lab ready to go if someone needs to be tested. We also have a hotline set up for anyone who may have been traveling through the airport and bus station and are concerned.”

MERS is new to humans, known normally as a condition that strikes camels.  It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, 401 cases have been confirmed in 12 countries. It appears that all reported cases originated in countries in the Arabian Peninsula, though health officials are unsure where the virus came from or how it spreads. To date, 93 people have died from MERS.

The virus causes fever and coughing or shortness of breath, and the CDC advises that anyone who experiences those symptoms within 14 days of traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula should seek medical attention.

“We’ve anticipated MERS reaching the U.S., and we’ve prepared for and are taking swift action,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a press release. “We’re doing everything possible with hospital, local, and state health officials to find people who may have had contact with this person so they can be evaluated as appropriate. This case reminds us that we are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.  We can break the chain of transmission in this case through focused efforts here and abroad.”

The number for the hotline is 1-844-565-0256. Illinois residents and medical professionals are encouraged to call if they have any questions or concerns.