INDIANAPOLIS – The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday that a Hoosier health care worker is the first person in the United States to contract the deadly MERS virus.
The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed the case was in northwest Indiana.
“There is a very low risk to the broader general public,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Diseases are just a plane ride away.”
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, better known as MERS, is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
It is caused by a virus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV develop severe acute respiratory illness. They have a fever, cough and shortness of breath. About 30 percent of these people died.
So far, all cases have been linked to six countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the disease, and health officials are uncertain where it came from or how it spreads.
“I want to assure every Hoosier that we have deployed the full resources of the Indiana State Department of Health to engage in tracking this case, assessing the risk to the public, and working to prevent the spread of this virus,” Gov. Mike Pence said.
“We are working in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and encourage those who may have been exposed to this virus to report any symptoms to their medical provider and take all necessary precautions,” he said. “Further, I commend Community Hospital in Munster, their staff and physicians for their swift professionalism in diagnosing and addressing this case.”
Schuchat said the northwest Indiana patient had been providing health care in Saudi Arabia. He then flew to London and then to Chicago on April 24. The person then took a bus to Indiana.
On Sunday, the person began to experience shortness of breath, coughing and a fever and was admitted to Community Hospital in Munster on Monday. The patient is on oxygen and has been isolated in stable condition.
Schuchat said when the disease has been exported to other countries, there has been a limited spread to those in the health care setting or family.
Schuchat said those who might have come in contact with the infected person on the bus or plane are being contacted. There are no other confirmed illnesses, but an investigation is ongoing.
“It's too early to breathe a sigh of relief,” she said.
The incubation period is about five days between infection and symptoms.