A strange new illness that the media claims originated in the Middle East has struck dozens of hospital workers and potentially many others across Florida and throughout the Southeast. ClickOrlando.com reports that the MERS virus, also known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, can kill up to one-third of people who contract it, and it has no known cure.
The disease is said to have originated in one man, a 44-year-old hospital worker from Saudi Arabia who was recently quarantined at Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando. The man tested positive for the disease after traveling to Orlando via London and a few other stops along the way. He reportedly began feeling ill in London, describing muscle aches and other symptoms, and was later evaluated.
Dr. Antonio Crespo, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital who is now treating the Saudi man, told the media that the patient took flu medicine along with an antibiotic that he brought with him from Saudi Arabia. When symptoms persisted, the man was tested for various diseases and came up positive for MERS, which has a very high mortality rate.
The man was immediately quarantined, but after word got out about the infection, many who may have come into contact with him during his travels were notified that they, too, could have been infected. Other travelers on the planes with him during his layovers, for instance, could have become infected with MERS as well, including one woman who was notified by her local health department.
“They informed me that there was a confirmed case of the MERS virus from my flight from Atlanta to Orlando,” stated the woman to ClickOrlando, requesting that her identity be withheld. “I was really scared.”
According to reports, the woman received a letter from her State Health Department explaining the situation and asking her to watch for high fever, cough, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or pain when coughing or breathing deeply. She and others on the plane, including her husband, who was traveling with her, were told to monitor their temperatures daily for 14 days.
“I was in shock that I could actually contract it,” she added. “We’re considered exposed but there was no level associated with that. They just said to me, ‘You and your husband are considered to be exposed to the MERS virus.'”
Dozens of hospital workers instructed to stay home until viral transmission period expires
Since the Saudi man reportedly was not coughing during his travels, the risk of transmission is considered low. But travelers who may have been exposed, as well as 15 other workers and two physicians at Dr. Phillips Hospital, have been advised to keep watch. Hospital workers who may have been exposed were also told to stay home for two weeks until being officially cleared of the virus.
“(Orlando is) the travel destination and we are going to see more cases come into our community, so I think Dr. Crespo and I would agree that all the hospitals in Central Florida need to become very proficient when handling the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus,” stated Dr. Kevin Sherin from the Florida Department of Health at Orange County.
According to Scientific American, MERS had first entered the U.S. on a prior occasion, when another doctor from the Middle East traveled to the country. Like with the most recent case, this man was exposed to untold hundreds of other people during his travels and eventually recovered from the condition. The Saudi man involved in the latest incident is also said to be recovering.