WASHINGTON: The United States announced Friday its first case of a dangerous respiratory virus that originated in the Middle East and has a high death rate.
The person infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a health care provider who was in Riyadh for work, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The name, gender and location of the patient were not disclosed.
“New diseases can be just a plane ride away,” Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.
“While centered in the Arabian peninsula, MERS is now in our heartland.”
The patient is being cared for in an Indiana hospital and is “isolated in stable condition,” said Schuchat, adding that lab tests confirmed the infection Friday.
There is no cure for MERS-CoV and no vaccine against it.
According to the CDC, 401 people in 12 countries have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV, including the U.S. patient.
The latest death toll announced by Saudi health authorities is 107.
Some cases have spread in a hospital setting, but sustained transmission among the general public is rare, the CDC said.
Officials are trying to track down people who were near the patient, who on April 24 flew by plane from Riyadh to London, and then flew to Chicago, Illinois, where the patient boarded a public bus to Indiana.
However, the CDC declined to make public the name of the airline or any other details about the person’s trip, and said that the Department of Homeland Security was working on locating people who traveled near the patient.
It was on April 27 that the patient began to experience shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The person was hospitalized a day later.
Officials declined to say how the patient became infected, or how many people came in contact with the patient.
It was also not known whether the patient had direct contact with camels during the Saudi trip.
Some research has suggested that camels are a likely source of the virus.
Schuchat said there was a low risk of MERS spreading to the general public, but added that the situation was considered “fluid.”
She said the CDC is not currently recommending that people change their travel plans.
Public concern over the spread of MERS mounted earlier this month after the resignation of at least four doctors at Jeddah’s King Fahd Hospital who refused to treat patients for fear of infection.
MERS is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.