Rather serendipitously, Kumar said, the patient was taken to one of the hospital's negative airflow rooms—an isolation room with a ventilation system designed to prevent air from flowing to other parts of the hospital. “So, already, risk of this spreading was low,” Kumar said.
Next, the infectious disease team was brought in to interview the patient. Located about 50 miles from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the hospital often receives international patients, so travel history is routinely included within the conversation.
“We learned information that presented a risk,” Kumar said. Samples were taken and sent to the Indiana State Department of Health on April 30, and from there, they were later sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
As they awaited the results, hospital staffers turned to technology to quickly gather information on who else may have been exposed. They looked at electronic health records and pulled video surveillance from the emergency department for the 24-hour period before the patient was placed in isolation. They also pulled logs of tracer tags worn by staff, a sort of internal GPS system showing where any individual staff member is located within a given period of time.
“Operationally, it was hugely important to be able to understand workflow,” said Don Fesko, CEO of the hospital. When the CDC confirmed the patient had MERS about 12:30 p.m. Central on May 2, hospital staff was ready to respond appropriately. “We could easily take anyone who was on duty, out of duty, and quickly explain to them what was going on.”
About 50 employees exposed to the patient before he was put in isolation were removed from duty. None have tested positive for MERS, and they are expected to return to work by the end of next week.
The hospital, the state health department and the CDC say the collaborative efforts of all entities involved led to the successful isolation of the case. However, the CDC continues to stress that viruses don't respect borders and future cases of the disease on U.S. soil are likely inevitable.
All hospitals should have their antennas up, especially those in or near a big metropolitan areas, said Feikin. Physicians in Munster, Ind. were able to rapidly put the pieces together using what they knew about MERS and the patient's travel history. Their efforts to prevent the spread of the disease were a real success, he said.
Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHsrice