Florida Healthcare Workers Being Tested For Deadly MERS Infection
May 14, 2014

Florida Healthcare Workers Being Tested For Deadly MERS Infection

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Two healthcare workers who helped treat a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) patient in Florida have been sent to the hospital room with flu-like symptoms, and are being tested to see if they have contracted the mysterious respiratory ailment.

According to Maggie Fox, Senior Health Writer for NBC News, officials at P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando report that at least one of the cases is most likely not MERS, since the staffer started showing symptoms just one day after treating the patient, who was just the second person to be diagnosed with the virus in the US.

The incubation period -- or the period that passes from initial contact with an infected patient to the appearance of the first symptoms -- for MERS is typically about five days, Fox said. However, Dr. Antonio Crespo, infectious disease specialist and chief quality officer at the Florida hospital, said that they want to be “extra cautious” because both hospital workers had contact with the patient when they were not wearing surgical masks.

That individual has been admitted to the hospital, Dr. Crespo told CNN.com’s Elizabeth Landau and Ashley Hayes. The other healthcare worker started showing symptoms 72 hours after exposure to the MERS patient, but did not meet admission criteria and was sent home, he added. That individual is being monitored and appears to be improving.

These two healthcare workers are among 20 in the Orlando area who might have been exposed to the MERS patient, Landau and Hayes said, and officials noted that they are being tested for the virus. All 20 individuals are being advised to stay home and not report to work for the next 14 days. Dr. Crespo added that the healthcare workers had been instructed to monitor their temperatures and to be on the lookout for sore throat, fever, or other symptoms.

The MERS patient in question had visited Orlando Regional Medical Center on May 5, and was admitted to P. Phillips Hospital four days later, Crespo said. Prior to arriving at the hospital, the man did not have a cough or other respiratory symptoms, leading Crespo and his colleagues to conclude that there is a lower transmission risk to other people he might have come in contact with. CDC and Florida health officials are investigating the case.

The Orlando patient is the second individual to have a confirmed MERS infection, with the first being diagnosed in Indiana on May 2. The individual in this case is a male health worker who had traveled to Saudi Arabia on a British Airways flight, landed in Chicago and then traveled by bus to an undisclosed city in the Hoosier state. He began experiencing respiratory ailments on April 27 and was admitted to Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana the following day.

To date, there have been over 500 lab-confirmed cases of MERS resulting in 145 fatalities worldwide, according to Time.com’s Alexandra Sifferlin. The coronavirus first appeared two years ago in Saudi Arabia before spreading to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, and is believed to have originated in camels, she added.

Symptoms of MERS include shortness of breath, fever, and coughing – and, in severe cases, pneumonia or renal failure. Approximately 30 percent of people contracting the disease have died, although the Indiana patient has fully recovered and has since been discharged from the hospital, Sifferlin said. The severity of the condition most likely depends on the initial health of the individual who contacts the virus.

“The CDC says the risk for Americans is extremely low,” she added. “There are currently no travel restrictions in place. However, health care workers serving in the Middle East are recommended to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from infection. The CDC currently has a team in Indiana and Florida to monitor the infection, as well as a team in Saudi Arabia studying the disease.”