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Dramatic increase in MERS cases since March

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Healthcare officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO said the number of reported cases of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome or MERS have dramatically increased since mid-March 2014, including the first cases in the United States.

Worldwide, 538 people have been infected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), including three cases in the United States. The CDC confirmed the first case of MERS in the U.S. in Indiana in a news release on May 2. A second MERS case was confirmed in a patient in Orlando, Florida.

On Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed that a man from Illinois tested positive for the potentially deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus. The Illinois patient had close contact with the Indiana patient, who became sick after traveling from Saudi Arabia to the U.S. on April 24th.

On Monday, healthcare experts confirmed that a man in Illinois likely contracted MERS virus via handshake with the Indiana patient two days before he ended up in the intensive care unit of Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana. Unlike the cases in Indiana and Florida, the Illinois man had not come from Saudi Arabia, therefore it is the first known case of MERS spread from person to person. ABC News Chief Health and Medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser said:

"This is the first MERS infection acquired in the U.S.,” Dr. Besser said. “There are a couple possibilities: one is that it was transmitted by handshake; the other is that their face-to-face meeting, which lasted 40 minutes, was enough for the virus to be transmitted. At this point, there’s no way of knowing which it was.”

On the CDC's official website, a list of symptoms associated with MERS include fever, cough, breathing problems, which can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials have closely monitored the man since May 3, as part of their overall MERS investigation. While the man tested positive for MERS, he has not experienced any if the symptoms associated with the virus. At this time, he is reported to be feeling well. Both patients in Indiana and Florida have reportedly made a full recovery and were released from the hospitals.

MERS originated in Saudi Arabia in September, 2012, and quickly spread to other Middle Eastern countries. However, the discovery of sporadic cases in Britain, Greece, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries including three cases in the United States have raised concerns about the potential global spread of the disease by infected airline passengers. Last week, the CDC posted MERS virus alerts at airport security checkpoints in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego and 16 other airports across the nation.

Both U.S. patients, in Indiana and Florida are health care workers in Saudi Arabia where MERS originated, however, CDC officials said the two cases were not related.

The MERS virus has been found in camels, but healthcare officials and global researchers admit they are puzzled as to how it MERS is spread to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact.

The purpose for the CDC report is to provide health care workers with updated guidance about patient evaluations, home care and isolation, specimen collection and travel as of May 13, 2014.

In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the CDC has developed preparedness goals intended to measure state and local public health jurisdictions’ preparedness and response to bio-terrorism, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and other public health threats and emergencies.

Previously, 163 suspected cases of MERS were tested in the U.S. but none were confirmed.

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