Orlando Hospital Workers Exposed to MERS Virus Awaiting Test Results, Officials Say

PHOTO: A colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012 is seen in this file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.PlayAP Photo/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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A man with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome may have exposed 100 people to the deadly MERS virus at two Florida hospitals, health officials said today.

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The 44-year-old man, who works as a healthcare provider in Saudi Arabia, was admitted to Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando May 8, a week after developing symptoms of MERS mid-flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to London.

The man, whose name and nationality have not been released, traveled through Boston and Atlanta before arriving in Orlando, where he was visiting family, officials said.

“He is in good condition and is continuing to improve,” the hospital said in a statement, adding that prior to the man’s hospitalization, he accompanied another patient to Orlando Regional Medical Center May 5. “In conjunction with the Florida Department of Health, we are proactively notifying all team members, other patients and their guests who were in this patient’s vicinity prior to his diagnosis of their possible exposure to the virus and the proper precautions to take.”

5 Things to Know About the MERS Virus Now That It's Here

At least 20 hospital workers who were in contact with the man at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital and Orlando Regional Medical Center have been placed in home isolation for the virus’s 14-day incubation period and are awaiting MERS test results.

One hospital worker, who developed symptoms of the virus 24 hours after being exposed, has been placed in isolation at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, Dr. Antonio Crespo said at a media briefing today.

Crespo said he wears a special mask, goggles and gloves, all of which are disposable, when interacting with isolated patients.

Find out how to protect yourself from MERS.

An estimated 80 other people who may have been exposed to the virus in waiting rooms at the two hospitals have also been contacted. The infected man was not wearing a mask despite his respiratory symptoms and a fever as high as 102 degrees, and did not inform hospital staff that he worked at a hospital in Saudi Arabia that treated MERS patients until after his arrival, officials said.

Dr. P. Phillips Hospital is a 237-bed full-service medical facility in Southwest Orange County, according to the hospital’s website. Just last year, its staff ran a safety exercise that involved a fictitious MERS case, according to Crespo, who called the exercise an “excellent drill.”

The results of MERS testing for the 20 exposed healthcare workers are expected Wednesday or Thursday. If any tests come back positive, MERS testing will be offered to other community members that may have been exposed. But officials stressed that the risk to the community is “negligible,” and that healthcare workers in “close contact” with patients have the highest risk.

Family members of the Orlando MERS patient have also been placed in home isolation and are awaiting test results, officials said. Another 500 people who shared three U.S.-bound flights with him have also been contacted.

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MERS Coronavirus Update Map

The latest MERS scare comes two weeks after an American man was hospitalized with symptoms of the respiratory virus in Indiana. The man, whose name has not been released, was also working as a healthcare provider in Saudi Arabia before traveling by plane to London and Chicago and by bus to Munster, Indiana. He was discharged from the hospital Friday in what health officials hoped would mark the end of MERS in the U.S.

The Orlando and Munster cases are not linked, officials said.

The U.S. is the latest of 15 countries to report cases of MERS. Saudi Arabia, which is ground zero for the outbreak, has reported 495 cases and 152 deaths related to SARS-like virus.

Health officials are not recommending that anyone change their travel plans at this time, but signs distributed to 22 U.S. airports urge people traveling to the Arabian Peninsula to avoid close contact with sick people, wash their hands often and call a doctor if they develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of their trip.