Local health officials respond to MERS case

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A deadly virus from the Middle East has made its way to the U.S., and the first and only reported case in this country is in Northwestern Indiana.

Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS-CoV, first surfaced in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. MERS is a lower respiratory disease, similar to the SARS virus. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but, it’s so dangerous because it can develop into a serious lung disease. Currently, there are more than 300 reported cases in 12 different countries, and 93 of those cases have died. CDC officials said there was a large outbreak in March of this year. Health officials aren’t sure how the disease originated but believe it travels by airborne transmission.

The patient who brought the disease to the United States was working in a healthcare facility in Saudi Arabia. On April 24, the individual left Saudia Arabia and flew to London, then from London on to Chicago and took a bus from Chicago to Munster, Indiana.

“We’re all just a plane ride away from diseases we think we don’t have to worry about on a regular basis,”  said Dr. Deborah McMahan, the Allen County Health Commissioner.

Health officials said they are contacting people who were on the bus and plane with the patient, but that others should not panic.

“If you’ve just been in Chicago or NE Indiana, you don’t have to worry about being exposed,” Dr. McMahan said. “The risk of that is extremely low.”

There is no vaccine for the virus, so health officials are reminding people that it is important to be proactive and wash hands frequently as well as to disinfect public surfaces. Officials said they aren’t releasing many details about the U.S. case because it’s early on in the investigation; however, the patient is stable but still hooked up to an oxygen machine. Health officials also said that people shouldn’t change their travel plans because of this one case.

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