MERS, the deadly virus that first cropped up in Saudi Arabia in 2012, has officially made it to the United States. The CDC confirmed Friday afternoon that it's confirmed the first U.S. case in a traveler from the region.
Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus — or MERS-CoV -- has infected at least 250 people and killed 93, according to the World Health Organization. A recent uptick in new infections has led experts to express concern that we could be on the cusp of a worldwide outbreak -- at that it was only a matter of time before the virus appeared in the U.S.
“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS to make its way to the United States,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. “We have been preparing since 2012 for this eventuality.”
According to the CDC, the infected patient is a healthcare worker who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Indiana on April 24th, touching base in London and Chicago along the way. "On the 27th," the CDC continued, "the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.”
“We’re doing everything possible with hospital, local, and state health officials to find people who may have had contact with this person so they can be evaluated as appropriate," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
There's currently no treatment or cure for MERS, and little is understood about how it is transferred between humans. It's related to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in 2003's global outbreak.
"It is understandable that some may be concerned about this situation," Schuchat added, "but this first U.S. case of MERS-CoV infection represents a very low risk to the general public."