CDC Reports First Person-to-Person Transmission of MERS in the U.S.

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 18 2014 3:56 PM

CDC Reports First Person-to-Person Transmission of MERS in the U.S.

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A Muslim pilgrim wearing a mask due to fears of the deadly MERS virus near the holy city of Mecca on October 15, 2013

Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

An American who lives in Illinois appears to be the first person to have been infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome inside the United States when he had brief contact with an infected patient. The good news is that the person doesn’t seem to have developed signs of the illness. But the bad news is that it suggests it could be easier to contract MERS than health officials previously believed. Overall, it marks the third confirmed case of the disease inside the United States, details Bloomberg. The first case involved a person returning from Saudi Arabia, who was successfully treated in a U.S. hospital and released.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a blood test confirmed the third patient had MERS but he doesn’t count as an official case because there was no live virus, notes CNN.

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Although the first MERS case was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, little is known about how it originated, how it spreads, and its effects. So far, it has infected 572 people and killed 173 of them. The first person-to-person infection in the United States appears to raise questions about speculation by health officials that MERS only spreads through very close contact, such as living with someone who is infected. So far, the CDC isn’t ready to change its assessment, reports the Wall Street Journal. "I don't think that this significantly changes our understanding," a CDC official said. "It may be that as before an occasional human-to-human transmission may occur, but it's not sustained transmission and it's certainly not easy transmission."

In order to prevent MERS from spreading in the United States, the CDC “is using its playbook from the 2003 SARS virus scare,” reports the Hill, adding that some 300 center workers are involved in the operation.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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