The U.S. health officials confirmed the first case of an American infected with the dangerous virus MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which sickened dozens of residents of the region.
According to reports, the infected American fell ill after flying to the U.S. late last week from Saudi Arabia where he worked in the sphere of medicine.
Now the man was hospitalized. He remains in good stable condition, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana health officials, who are investigating the case.
The virus is not highly contagious and this case “represents a very low risk to the broader, general public,” Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters during a CDC briefing.
The federal agency is now planning to track down passengers the infected potentially could stay with in close contact with during his travels; it was not clear how many may have been exposed to the virus. So far, it is not known how he was infected, Schuchat said.
“Saudi Arabia has been at the center of a Middle East outbreak of MERS that began two years ago. The virus has spread among health care workers, most notably at four facilities in that county last spring,” The Huffington Post reports. “Officials didn’t provide details about the American’s job in Saudi Arabia or whether he treated MERS patients.”
In total, according to preliminary estimates, at least 400 people had been infected with the syndrome, and more than 100 people have died. All had ties to the Middle East region or to people who traveled there.
Doctors explain that it was just a matter of time before the respiratory illness showed up in the U.S., as it has in Europe and Asia.
“Given the interconnectedness of our world, there’s no such thing as ‘it stays over there and it can’t come here,'” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University MERS expert.
Initially the dangerous syndrome was found in camels, but experts still can’t figure it out how it is spreading to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. Not all those exposed to the virus become ill.
However, the virus appears to be very lethal as it took lives of nearly a third of the infected people. That’s a much more higher percentage than seasonal flu or other routine infections.But it is not as contagious as flu, measles or other diseases. There is no vaccine or cure and there’s specific treatment except to relieve symptoms.
“Federal and state health officials on Friday released only limited information about the U.S. case: On April 24, the man flew from Riyadh — Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city — to the United States, with a stop in London. He landed in Chicago and took a bus to nearby Indiana. He didn’t become sick until Sunday, the CDC said,” the Huffington Post quotes him as saying.