Coronaviruses as viewed under an electron microscope. (CDC)
Given the incidence of recent MERS infections on the Arabian Peninsula, and the amount of international travel between that region of the world and the United States, it isn’t altogether surprising that a second imported case of MERS has been reported here – and this time in Florida.
With an incubation period that can often exceed a week, and sometimes extend to two weeks, it is perfectly possible for someone to become exposed in the Middle East and travel to virtually anyplace in the world before the first signs or symptoms appear.
At today’s press conference held by the CDC and representatives of the Florida Department of Health we learned that this latest case – like the one reported in Indiana 2 weeks ago – was a healthcare provider, recently returned from Saudi Arabia.
The unidentified HCW left Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and flew to London on May 1st, and began to feel unwell on that flight. He then flew on to Boston, then Atlanta, and finally arrived in Orlando Florida. The CDC is doing airline contact tracing for those who may have had exposure to this patient (a number that could approach 500 contacts on US flights alone).
The patient went to a local Emergency Room on May 8th, was admitted, and state public health testing subsequently identified this patient as being infected with the virus.
The CDC confirmed the results last night.
The press conference was conducted by CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, Dr. Anne Schuchat, and Florida Surgeon General John H. Armstrong, who all stressed that the risk to the general public is extremely low.
Most secondary infections with this virus appear to have been among close contacts – healthcare workers and family members – and the risk to casual contacts is considered low.
The Florida Health Department is investigating contacts on the ground during the week before the patient went to the hospital, and when the patient first presented to the hospital. The patient is described as being in stable condition, and his close contacts (family) will stay home (voluntary quarantine) for the duration of the incubation period.
Dr. Armstrong indicated that additional information would be forthcoming from local officials.
The CDC is actively encouraging clinicians to look for cases that may fit the MERS profile (see CDC: MERS-CoV COCA Call ), and the expectation is that we will see additional MERS case importations in the future.
Dr. Frieden closed the press conference stressing the need for `meticulous’ infection control, including the furloughing of any HCWs who might have been exposed before the patient is identified as infected. At the same time, he stated that the risk to the general public from this virus is considered to be very low.
A transcript to this briefing will be posted on the CDC Media Relations website later today.