Deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) reaches United States

MERS Coronavirus

An American who traveled to Saudi Arabia, and later returned via London to the greater Chicago area, is the first confirmed case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the United States.  The patient is currently being treated in a hospital in northwest Indiana.

MERS is a type of corona virus, a broad family of viruses that includes the common cold and SARS.  Infection can result in fever, pneumonia, kidney failure and death.  MERS is a respiratory illness, and most people infected have fever, cough and shortness of breath.

According to the CDC, about 30% of people with MERS have died, although most of those who died also had other underlying medical conditions.  WebMD indicated that 400 have been sickened by MERS overall, with more than 100 dying.

Yet some who are infected have mild symptoms or none at all.  So perhaps the numbers of infections are higher, including persons who have gone undetected because they did not have sufficient symptoms to seek medical attention, or lacked access to medical attention.

Coronaviruses are fragile, and can be killed easily by cleaning agents.

Believed originally to have an animal source, such as a camel, MERS thus far has occurred mainly on the Arabian peninsula.  A study of dromedaries in Arabia showed the presence of MERS antibodies.

A limited number of travel-related cases have turned up in the United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia and now the United States.  The number of MERS cases has been increasing.  The first MERS-related death was in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The U.S. case came on the heels of Egypt also getting their first case recently, as well as Saudi Arabia announcing more than two dozen new cases including five deaths. The Egyptian patient had just traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he visited an uncle who died of the disease.

Special public health concern is raised over expectations that there will be large numbers of visitors to Saudi Arabia at mid-summer and in the fall, in connection with Ramadan and Muslim pilgrimages.

MERS Hub: Resources & Links

:: MERS outbreak: London-bound passengers warned over virus – BBC 5.2.14
:: MERS: CDC confirms first U.S. case of Middle East respiratory syndrome – Los Angeles Times 5.2.14
:: First MERS Virus Case Found in U.S. – Wall Street Journal 5.2.14
:: Health Highlights: May 2, 2014: 1st MERS Case Reported in U.S.; Pregnancy-Related Deaths Rising in U.S.Generic Anti-Allergy Drugs Recalled – WebMD 5.2.14
:: First U.S. case of deadly MERS virus confirmed: CDC – Reuters 5.2.14
:: First Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus case in the United States MERS-CoV, a virus new to humans, was first reported in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 – UPI 5.2.14
:: Saudi Arabia finds 26 more cases of MERS, Egypt reports first sufferer – Reuters 5.2.14
:: CDC: Man who traveled through Chicago to Indiana is first U.S. case of MERS – Chicago Tribune 5.2.14
:: Federal, state health officials contacting those possibly exposed to MERS virus – Fox 59 5.2.14
:: Virus alert for BA passengers at Heathrow – London Times 5.2.14
:: CDC – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
:: CDC – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Related Materials
:: WHO – Coronaviruses

CDC webpage (accessed 5.2.14)

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has caused severe illness and death in people from several countries. On May 2, 2014, the first confirmed case was reported in a traveler to the United States.

On May 2, 2014, the first confirmed case of MERS-CoV was reported in a traveler to the United States. This is the only confirmed case in the United States. CDC is working very quickly to investigate this first U.S. case of MERS and respond to minimize the spread of this virus. We expect to learn much more in the coming hours and days. We will share updated information through the CDC MERS website.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It is different from any other coronavirus previously found in people. We don’t know where the virus came from or exactly how it spreads. However, it likely came from an animal source. All reported cases to date have been linked to the Arabian Peninsula.

Most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of people with MERS have died. Most of the people who died had an underlying medical condition. Some infected people had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

It is different from the coronavirus that caused SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003. However, like the SARS virus, MERS-CoV is most similar to coronaviruses found in bats.

What Are Coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. They are common viruses that most people get in their lifetime. These viruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.

Coronaviruses may also infect animals. Most of these coronaviruses usually infect only one animal species or, at most, a small number of closely related species. However, SARS coronavirus can infect people and animals, including monkeys, Himalayan palm civets, raccoon dogs, cats, dogs, and rodents.

Global Partners Working to Understand MERS

The World Health Organization (WHO), CDC, and other partners are working to better understand the possible risks from MERS-CoV to the public’s health. Learn about what CDC is doing about MERS.

CDC Does Not Recommend Anyone Change Travel Plans

CDC does not recommend that anyone change their travel plans because of MERS. The current CDC travel notice is an Alert (Level 2), which provides special precautions for travelers. Because spread of MERS has occurred in healthcare settings, the alert advises travelers going to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula to provide healthcare services to practice CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected cases and to monitor their health closely. Travelers who are going to the area for other reasons are advised to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

Countries With Lab-Confirmed MERS Cases

Countries in the Arabian Peninsula with Cases
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Countries with Travel-associated Cases
United Kingdom (UK)
United States of America (USA)



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