CDC announces first case of serious respiratory disease in Indiana

MUNSTER, Ind. (WISH) – A deadly respiratory disease historically diagnosed in the Arabian Peninsula has made its way not just to the United States, but more specifically, to Indiana.

The Centers for Disease Control reminds us all that everything is preliminary. They do know that about a third of the hundreds diagnosed Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS in the Arabian Peninsula have died from the disease. Now its first North American case is here in the Hoosier state.

The CDC says on April 24, a male healthcare provider working in the Middle East flew from Riyadh Saudi Arabia, to London, to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Then, he took a bus to Munster, Indiana. Three days later, the patient had symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing and a fever.

“CDC and the state health department do not yet know how the patient became infected, how many people have had close contact with the patient and whether they have become ill,” said Anne Schuchat, M.D., Assistant Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service; Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“It was very surprising. We’d been monitoring the cases that have been rapidly emerging over the last week,” said Andrew Mesecar, Purdue Professor of Cancer Structural Biology and Biochemistry, Researcher.

Mesecar has been researching MERS for about a year, ever since it was found to be a coronavirus. That’s the same family as SARS. SARS is another disease he and his team have been researching for the past nine years. They’d been waiting on a sample of MERS in a test tube to study, but had no idea it would come so close by accident.

“And little did I know that I would be grading papers and it would show up on a text message by one of my colleagues that not only is it in the United States, but it’s in my home state of Indiana,” said Mesecar.

The CDC is not releasing the specific airline or bus carrier, but instead is beginning an effort to contact anyone individually who was on the flights or bus with the patient. Mesecar says, while this case is very serious, it isn’t cause for panic.

“So, don’t think that we are ignoring this. It’s very high on the radar of scientists around the world,” said Mesecar.

The CDC says the virus is very slow spreading and presents a low risk to the general public. It’s more contained to healthcare workers or people in close contact with someone who is infected.

The patient is being treated at Community Hospital in Munster and is said to be in stable condition.

Researchers don’t know for sure how MERS spreads. But, camels may be one clue. Researchers isolated the virus from two single-humped camels. And, back in February some scientists published a finding that nearly 75% of camels tested in Saudi Arabia showed signs of past exposure to MERS. However, the virus was also found in a bat in Saudi Arabia. The World Health Organization stresses the investigation is ongoing.

Right now doctors can only treat symptoms of MERS. Mesecar says it could take at least three years to develop a vaccine.

If you have questions about the virus the Indiana Department of Health established a hotline for Hoosiers. They say it will be open seven days a week until further notice.

You can call any time between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 1-877-826-0011.

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