FIU Health Alert - First reported case of deadly MERS virus in U.S.

Aileen M. Marty, M.D.
Director, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program

MERSHealth officials say a new and deadly respiratory virus, from the Middle East has turned up for the first time in the U.S. The virus, called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), causes a terrible pneumonia.  The early symptoms are fever, cough that produces secretions, and shortness of breath.  The first known American victim is an Indiana man who fell ill after visiting Saudi Arabia where he was a health care worker. The MERS virus was first isolated in 2012 from a Saudi Arabian businessman who died of acute lung failure. Countries where people are acquiring the disease now include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, and Kuwait.  And people who visited those countries and got infected, have spread the disease to the following countries: the United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia, and now the United States. MERS spreads from a sick person to other people through close contact.  So far, it has killed 30% of the people infected.  We still do not know where this virus came from, though it has been found in camels, and in one bat from Saudi Arabia.   We do have a test kit for identifying people who are infected,but we do not have a specific anti-viral drug that is known to work against MERS, and there is no vaccine.

If you are traveling to the Middle East follow standard precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, (help young children do the same). If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  •  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
  •  If you develop fever, cough, and shortness of breath within 2 weeks of visiting the Middle East you should seek medical attention.

May 5, 2014