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May 4, 2014

CDC confirms first US case of MERS virus

NEW YORK — Health officials confirmed the first case of an American infected with a mysterious virus that has sickened hundreds in the Middle East.

The man fell ill after flying to the U.S. late last week from Saudi Arabia where he was a health care worker.

He is hospitalized in good condition in northwest Indiana with Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana health officials said Friday.

The virus is not highly contagious and this case “represents a very low risk to the broader, general public,” Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters during a CDC briefing.

The federal agency plans to track down passengers he may have been in close contact with during his travels; it was not clear how many may have been exposed to the virus.

So far, it is not known how he was infected, Schuchat said.

Saudi Arabia has been at the center of a Middle East outbreak of MERS that began two years ago. The virus has spread among health care workers, most notably at four facilities in that country last spring.

Officials didn’t provide details about the American’s job in Saudi Arabia or whether he treated MERS patients.

Overall, at least 400 people have had the respiratory illness, and more than 100 people have died. All had ties to the Middle East region or to people who traveled there.

Experts said it was just a matter of time before MERS showed up in the U.S., as it has in Europe and Asia.

“Given the interconnectedness of our world, there’s no such thing as ‘it stays over there and it can’t come here,”’ said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University MERS expert.

MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which caused some 800 deaths globally in 2003.

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