Just a few weeks after the first case of a deadly Middle Eastern virus landed on American shores, CDC officials have confirmed a second U.S. case of MERS, this time in Florida.
As many epidemiologists feared would happen, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome was first confirmed in the U.S. when a man in Indiana was diagnosed with the illness after returning from a work-related trip to Saudi Arabia late last month. The man is being treated in an isolation unit and is said to be recovering. The second patient—a health care worker who lives and works in Saudi Arabia—was visiting family in Florida and is not suspected to be linked to the first patient in any way. He is in good condition and expected to survive, John Armstrong, Florida's state surgeon general and secretary of health, told CNN.
MERS likely spreads from camels to humans, though it's unknown how humans catch it exactly. Experts have been watching the virus carefully, as it has an unusually high fatality rate, with about a third of patients dying shortly after contracting it. However, it's not thought to be highly contagious, and the CDC is reassuring the general public that neither of these cases represent a huge public health threat. A new type of "coronavirus," MERS symptoms generally resemble those of the flu (fever, cough, respiratory problems), but unlike the flu, there's no known vaccine or treatment for MERS.
There are no particular travel restrictions to the Arabian Peninsula, but the CDC recommends that people who visit there monitor their health and watch for flu-like symptoms, as well as recommending that medical professionals be on high alert for any patients who have traveled there recently and exhibit similar symptoms.
In the meantime, the CDC is also reiterating its policy for basic public health safety:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
For questions about MERS, you can call the Indiana health department's hotline at 877-826-0011, which is being answered daily, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT. A voicemail system is available for callers to leave a message during off hours.