MERS VIRUS: CDC hopes to track down flight passengers - FOX 35 News Orlando

MERS VIRUS: CDC hopes to track down flight passengers

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Colorized transmission electron micrograph showing particles of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus that emerged in 2012. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Colorized transmission electron micrograph showing particles of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus that emerged in 2012. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Health officials in the United States and abroad are keeping a close eye on the MERS virus since a Florida patient became the first to be diagnosed two weeks ago after entering the country on May 1.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently tracking down anyone who may have been exposed to as an airline passenger, but officials stress there is no reason to panic.

WHAT IS THE MERS VIRUS?

MERS is shorthand for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and it is both rare and deadly; however, the World Health Organization (WHO) says despite an increase in cases, there is no need to declare a worldwide public health emergency at this time.

"When these cases are looked at more closely, it is clear that a majority of the cases have occurred in hospital settings," Keiji Fukuda, with WHO, said. "So, these are hospital-acquired infections to a large extent.

The virus originates in the Middle East. Health officials aren't completely sure where it came from, but it was first discovered in Saudi Arabia two years ago.

Symptoms of the virus include:

- Coughing
- Fever
- Pneumonia

The virus has proved fatal to 30 percent of patients and is spread between people in close contact.

2 CONFIRMED CASES IN FLORIDA

So far, both the confirmed cases in America involve healthcare workers who spent time in Saudi hospitals treating MERS patients.

The CDC is hoping to contact about 500 Americans in 34 states who may have flown with the first passenger on May 1. The passenger traveled from Saudi Arabia to London and then to Boston before having a layover in Atlanta while en route to Orlando.

The CDC believes the risk to fellow passengers is low because the virus is not easily transmitted from one person to another, but they would still like to speak with them as a precaution.

"We're telling them that, unfortunately, there was a patient with MERS on the airplane, and while we don't think there's a big risk, we don't know at this point. It's a new virus."

Two U.S. hospital workers who fell ill after coming into contact with a MERS patient have since tested negative for the virus.

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