First Reported Case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the US

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the United States after receiving lab confirmation on Friday, May 2.

MERS-CoV is from the same family of viruses that includes SARS-CoV. The illness was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Worldwide, there have been over 260 confirmed cases and 93 deaths, with at least an additional 100 unconfirmed cases.

The origins of MERS-CoV and mode of transmission are unknown and there is currently no vaccine or virus-specific recommended treatment. It is known to spread through close contact but has not shown evidence of sustained spread in a community setting. Similar to SARS, MERS-CoV has been shown to spread in healthcare settings. One of the largest outbreaks occurred from April-May 2013, with 23 cases across four Saudi Arabian healthcare facilities.

The patient, who is currently stable and in isolation at a hospital in Indiana, is a healthcare worker who recently returned from working in Saudi Arabia. In late April, the patient traveled from Riyadh to London, and then on to Chicago. The patient then took a bus to Indiana, and began experiencing shortness of breath and fever and was hospitalized on the April 28. Healthcare workers who have provided care to the patient are being monitored for symptoms, but there is currently no evidence that the disease has spread.

The CDC and its partners, including the World Health Organization, are conducting an extensive epidemiologic investigation.

“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS-CoV to make its way to the United States,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, Director, CDC. This makes coordination at all levels–local, state, national, and international–vital to responding to MERS-CoV. The CDC noted that it was local healthcare providers in Indiana who first suspected MERS-CoV and that the Indiana State Department of Health was quick to involve the CDC and launch an investigation.

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About Erin Roberts

Erin Roberts, MPH, is a Program Analyst on the Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response team at NACCHO. Her work includes broadening the public's access to medical countermeasures during a severe pandemic, fostering collaboration between public health and pharmacy, and contributing to NACCHO's food safety initiatives.

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