MUNSTER, Ind. (WISH) – Health officials say the patient that has the first confirmed case of MERS in the U.S. continues to improve and should return home soon.
The announcement was made at a news conference at Community Hospital in Munster where the patient is currently under isolation.
MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome because all of the cases can be traced to the Middle East.
Officials say on April 24, the patient flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to London, then Chicago, where he took a bus to Indiana. His diagnosis came on April 28 after he went to the hospital with a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“Fortunately to date, all the tests of the close contacts have been negative,” Dr. Daniel Feiken, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control, said at the news conference.
Dr. Alan Kumar with Community Hospital in Munster said 50 employees at the hospital who had close contact with the patient tested negative. Those staff members have been put on home isolation and the CDC said they can return to work after a 14-day incubation period.
“We know that it can spread person to person, however, this happens almost exclusively among very close contacts, either in the home or in the health care setting,” said Dr. Feiken. He defined close contact as a doctor working closely with a patient, or when someone might sneeze onto another person. “There’s no evidence that’s there’s risk on sort of casual contact walking by somebody in the community,” he said.
Dr. Kumar said any health care workers who come in contact with the patient wear gloves, a mask, eye protection and a gown. He added that the patient’s family has been put on home isolation, even though they’ve tested negative. He said if they leave the house they can wear a mask as a recommendation.
Dr. Feiken said the patient had limited exposure to the community when he arrived in the U.S. and went directly to his family’s home. He said 75 percent of the travelers that came in contact with the patient have been tested, and all of them came up negative. He said 100 people were on the plane with the patient, but they’re still working to get test results from the 10 people who rode the bus with him.
Health officials said the symptoms for MERS are similar to the flu including fever, cough and shortness of breath.
State health officials applauded the quick action taken by staff members at Coummunity Health in Munster when the patient checked into the emergency room
“At this point it appears that MERS picked the wrong hospital, the wrong state and the wrong country to try to get a foothold,” Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess said at the news conference.
As of Friday, Dr. Feikin said there have been 261 reported cases of MERS in the world that have been confirmed by the World Health Organization. He added there are more than reported 100 cases that haven’t been confirmed.
Dr. Feikin said the virus’ mortality rate is about 30 percent but deaths are most likely to occur with the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions.
We reached out to several hospitals in Indianapolis this afternoon, hoping to learn how they would handle a patient who thinks they’ve contracted MERS. None of them wanted to explain their protocol.
But Dr. VanNess did say that hospitals and health care facilities have been educated on the disease for more than a year now.
To help prevent the spread of MERS, doctors suggest the following tips:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose or mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect touched surfaces, such as toys or doorknobs.