May 12, 2014 -- A second U.S. case of the deadly MERS virus has been found in Orlando, Florida, health officials confirmed today.
The case involves a healthcare provider who resides and works in Saudi Arabia, according to Tom Frieden of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who called the news of the second case "unwelcome but not unexpected." Frieden stressed that the new case is not linked to the country's first MERS case in Munster, Indiana.
The new MERS patient, whose name, gender and nationality have not been released, flew from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to London on May 1 before proceeding to Boston, Atlanta and Orlando. The patient developed symptoms of the virus, including a fever, chills and "slight cough," during the flight from Jeddah but did not seek medical care until one week later, Frieden said.
Health officials are working to contact roughly 500 travelers who may have come into contact with the patient during flights to U.S. destinations. The flight numbers have not been released.
"The incubation period for MERS is often within five days, with an outer limit of 14 days," said Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Anne Schuchat, adding that "it's likely if you haven’t developed symptoms yet, you’re not going to."
The patient was visiting family in Orlando and did not visit any theme parks, according to Dr. John Armstrong, Florida’s State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health. The patient's family has been quarantined.
"To our knowledge, the patient did not wear a mask in transit," Armstrong said when asked whether the patient, who works as a healthcare provider, took precautions to prevent the spread of the infection.
"Our experience with MERS so far suggests that the risk to general public is extremely low," Frieden said, adding that transmission of SARS-like virus usually involves close contact in the medical care setting. "We're doing everything possible to find others who had contact with this person."
The CDC is not recommending that anyone change their travel plans at this time.
The case 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 working as a health care 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.
“These so-called distant threats are much closer to us than they might appear at first glance. That’s because all these viruses are only a plane ride away,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.
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 491 cases and 147 deaths related to SARS-like virus.