The health authorities announced on Saturday two new deaths from the Middle East Respiratory Sysdrome (MERS) coronavirus, raising to 111 the number of fatalities since the disease appeared in the Kingdom in September 2012.
A 25-year-old man has died in Jeddah and a woman of 69, who suffered from tuberculosis and anaemia, died in Makkah, the Health Ministry said.
At the same time, 35 new cases of the severe respiratory disease have been recorded, raising the number infected in Saudi Arabia over the past two years to 396, the world’s highest tally.
Meanwhile, American health officials on Friday said the first case of MERS has been confirmed in the United States.
The person infected with the virus is a health care provider who had traveled to Riyadh for work, they said.
The male patient traveled via a British Airways flight on April 24 from Riyadh to London, where he changed flights at Heathrow airport to fly to the United States. He landed in Chicago and took a bus to an undisclosed city in Indiana.
On April 27, he experienced respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, the man visited the emergency department at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, on April 28 and was admitted that same day.
Because of his travel history, Indiana health officials tested him for MERS, and sent the samples to the CDC, which confirmed the presence of the virus on Friday.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call the first US case of MERS was “of great concern because of its virulence,” proving fatal in about a third of infections.
She said the case represents “a very low risk to the broader general public,” but MERS has been shown to spread to healthcare workers and there are no known treatments for the virus.
Schuchat said the patient was now in stable condition and there are no other suspected cases of MERS at the current time.
The CDC declined to identify the patient by name or say where he was being treated. It also declined to say on which airlines or bus line the patient traveled.
Schuchat said the CDC was working with the US Department of Homeland Security to contact individuals who may have been exposed to the patient during his travels.
In Britain, public health officials said they were contacting any passengers who had been sitting near the patient.
Greg Cunningham, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, said that the department “has been advised that there is no reason to suspect any risk at O’Hare,” Chicago’s main international airport.
“There has only been one incident confirmed to have MERS, and he is hospitalized in Indiana,” he said.
Officials at Community Hospital in Munster confirmed that the man was in good condition, and said the hospital is “maintaining appropriate isolation protocols for the protection of health care staff.”
The hospital, located in northwest Indiana about 30 miles (48 km) from Chicago, said it has been working with the CDC and the state health department, and will be tracking the health of the patient’s family members and exposed health care workers daily during the next two weeks to check for MERS symptoms. – With agencies
(This article was originall published in Saudi Gazette on May 4, 2014)