Health officials work to contain Orlando MERS outbreak

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Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 4:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Doctors in Florida have discovered the United States' second case of the potentially fatal disease known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS. Now medical officials are scrambling to prevent an outbreak.

Health officials are tracking down hundreds of passengers who shared a May 1 flight with the Florida patient diagnosed with MERS. The Centers for Disease Control is posting warnings at 22 of the nation’s busiest airports telling passengers to wash their hands, not to touch their faces, and to avoid close contact with sick people

The infected passenger -- who works as a healthcare provider in Saudi Arabia -- flew from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, into Boston, where he caught a flight to Orlando that made a stop in Atlanta. The 44-year-old was treated for flu-like symptoms at two Central Florida hospitals, with two of the healthcare workers who took care of him showing MERS symptoms at first. They have since tested negative for the virus.

20 other hospital workers who came in contact with the infected man were told to stay home for two weeks. As a precaution, officials are also warning nearly a hundred people who were in the waiting room when the patient was admitted that they may have been exposed.

"The risk is negligible to the community,” says Dr. Kevin Sheri of the Florida Department of Health for Orange County. “I think the risk is negligible to those in the waiting room.”

The CDC believes MERS spreads through close contact over long periods of time.

"This is a relative new virus, and there's no specific anti-viral medicine and there's no vaccine," says Dr. Ann Schuchat of the CDC.

The Florida case is the second MERS case in the U.S. The man diagnosed in the first, unrelated case in Indiana is now out of the hospital.

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