U.S. faces first local MERS transmission

Health officials reported that a contact of the first U.S. case has developed antibodies to the virus

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The United States appears to have seen its first case of onward transmission of the mysterious MERS virus, with health officials reporting on Saturday that a contact of the first U.S. case has developed antibodies to the virus.

The Illinois man probably picked up an infection from an Indiana man who earlier this month became the first U.S. case of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, according to The Associated Press.

The unidentified man from Illinois, described as a business associate of the first U.S. case, however, never needed medical treatment and is reported to be feeling well, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The two men met for between 30 and 40 minutes on April 25, and again briefly the next day before the Indiana man fell ill and was hospitalized in Munster, Indiana, shortly after traveling from Saudi Arabia, where he lived and was employed as a health care worker.

“We don't think this changes the risk to the general public,” which remains low, David Swerdlow, a doctor at the CDC said.

The new report also is not considered evidence that the virus is spreading more easily among people than previously thought, Swerdlow added.

The virus is not considered to be highly contagious, and health officials believe it only spreads from person to person with close contact.

Many of those who have gotten sick in the Middle East have been family members or health care workers caring for a MERS patient.

On Friday, the tests completed by the CDC provided evidence that the Illinois man had an infection at some point, according The Associated Press.

Since the first man's diagnosis, health officials have been monitoring and testing anyone who was in close contact with him, including health care workers and household members, but none of the rest of them has tested positive for the virus.

A second U.S. illness was confirmed last week in a 44-year-old man from Saudi Arabia who was visiting Florida.

First reported two years ago in Saudi Arabia, MERS is a coronavirus like SARS, which originated in animals and killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002. There is no vaccine or anti-viral treatment against it.

Around a third of the 483 diagnosed with MERS in Saudi Arabia have died.

Saudi Arabia is still the focal point of the outbreak, although cases have been reported in other Middle Eastern countries, in Europe and in the United States, which had its first confirmed case last month.

(With The Associated Press)