An interview by an infectious disease team at the hospital revealed the patient, a healthcare worker at hospital in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, had just arrived in the U.S. days earlier to visit family. The patient's travel history and symptoms made hospital staff suspect he had Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a viral respiratory disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Last Friday the CDC confirmed he was indeed the first patient in the U.S. with the condition.
The MERS virus tends to spread through close contact, and patients develop fever, cough and shortness of breath within as many as 14 days following exposure. The condition has been most concerning among the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and healthcare workers who have been in close contact with an infected person.
There have been a total of 496 laboratory-confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization, including 229 reported between April 11 and May 4 of this year. More than 120 people have reportedly died as a result of complications from MERS.
Due to the increased number of reports over the past few months, including several over the past week in Saudi Arabia, the WHO is planning an emergency meeting May 13.
In the U.S., health officials say the MERS virus was successfully contained in the Indiana case, but they remain on alert.
“This case demonstrates that any infectious disease in the world is only a plane ride away," said Dr. William VanNess, Indiana State Health Commissioner. "I encourage all of our healthcare providers to remain vigilant in looking for any future cases.”
The CDC likewise last week emphasized that providers must be aware that patients with symptoms related to more common viruses might have MERS, and the ability to link the Indiana patient's travel history and symptoms was key to the successful response.
"If a patient has returned within the last 14 days from the Arabian Peninsula and they are febrile with respiratory illness, providers should think about testing for MERS, " said Dr. Daniel Feikin, who led the CDC investigation in Munster.
Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHsrice