First US MERS patient improving, gets ready for discharge

May 06, 2014 - 2:58:28 am
Shay Wilinski works in the Microbiology Lab at Community Hospital, where a patient with the first confirmed U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is in isolation, in Munster, Indiana, yesterday.

MUNSTER, Indiana: The first US patient to test positive for the often deadly MERS virus is off supplemental oxygen and walking around his hospital room in Munster, Indiana, as health officials begin planning the man’s release, state and federal authorities said yesterday.

Up to 50 hospital workers, as well as family members and close contacts of the patient who were monitored for signs of the virus have tested negative for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

“Every person who had contact with the index (infected) patient has been tested, and they all have tested negative,” Dr Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer of Community Hospital in Munster, where the patient is being treated, told a news conference.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Friday that it had identified the first MERS case in the country, raising new concerns about the global spread of an illness with a high fatality rate and no known treatment. 

The patient is a healthcare worker employed in Saudi Arabia, where the virus was first detected in 2012, who had come to Indiana to visit family. Saudi officials yesterday said the toll from a recent outbreak was still rising, with 18 new cases in the capital city of Riyadh, where the US patient works.   All of the Indiana hospital employees and the patient’s family members will be retested at the end of a 14-day incubation period for final confirmation they are free from MERS.   

“We’re being very vigilant to follow these contacts and continue to do testing on them,” said Dr Daniel Feikin, a medical epidemiologist from the CDC. Feikin is overseeing the patient’s care and helping track down anyone who might have had contact with him during his journey to the United States. 

There is no vaccine to prevent MERS and no cure for the lung infection it causes. Some research has suggested it may be crossing from camels into humans. 

Last week, Egypt recorded its first infection, after a person who had arrived from Saudi Arabia tested positive. Meanwhile, Saudi health authorities said yesterday that 115 people have died from the MERS coronavirus.

Reuters/AFP

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