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Deadly MERS virus: First confirmed victim in US flew in from Saudi Arabia

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed Friday that an Indiana healthcare worker who was recently in Saudi Arabia contracted the deadly MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus. Although it is still unclear where the point of contraction occurred, it wasn't until the unidentified healthcare worker had landed in Chicago and began presenting with respiratory problems a few days later in Indiana that doctors, on heightened alert due to the news of the quickly spreading MERS virus, took precautions and sent a sample of the patient's blood to Atlanta to try and determine the source of his ailment.

Reuters reported (via Yahoo News) May 2 that the latest victim -- and the first in the U. S. -- of the MERS virus left Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for London, where he boarded another British Airways airplane to get across the Atlantic, eventually landing at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on April 24. Officials at Indiana State Department of Health said that the patient was admitted to an Indiana hospital on April 28, shortly after entering the emergency department of Community Hospital in Munster. The patient had exhibited affected respiratory symptoms the day before. Those symptoms included fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The patient's travel history prompted health officials in Indiana to test for the MERS coronavirus.

And it is such ease of travel of diseased persons -- carriers, if you will -- that trigger warnings from experts about creating greater safeguards against the international spread of pathogens. Fear of a large epidemic or even a pandemic is common among those who deal with infectious diseases. For them, the question of a massive deadly outbreak is not a question of if, but when.

To make matters somewhat problematic, it isn't exactly known how the MERS virus is contracted.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call that although there are concerns as to the coronavirus' virulence if contracted (its mortality rate is approximately 33 percent), the actual presence of the MERS virus in the states was not of particular concern. She said there was "a very low risk to the broader general public" due to the healthcare worker's personal lifestyle and declined to give details of the patient's travel itinerary.

There have been no other reported cases in the U. S.

Hospital officials in Munster report that the patient is in good condition and that "isolation protocols" are in place to contain the coronavirus.

As a precaution, the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security have been tracking down anyone who might have come in contact with or been exposed to the patient.

British authorities are also attempting to locate passengers who may have been exposed.

The MERS coronavirus has an incubation period of between two and 14 days. First detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012, it shares similarities with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus which emerged in China in 2002-2003. That outbreak killed some 800 people.

The current outbreak of MERS has seen 262 people in 12 countries contract the deadly virus. Of those, 93 have died.

News of the first incidence of the MERS virus in the U. S. was preceded by the troubling news of a mosquito-borne virus that appears to have established itself in the Caribbean. The Associated Press reported May 1 that over 4,000 cases of the chikungunya virus had been confirmed throughout the many islands of the Caribbean Sea. The rarely fatal virus causes an intense onset of high fever and intense joint pain, according to health officials. Most prevalent in Asia and Africa, the chikungunya virus has spread quickly in the region, the first case being confirmed in St. Martin in December.