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CDC says man who met with U.S. MERS patient was not infected after all

MERSU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Initial blood tests that seemed to indicate the presence of MERS antibodies in an Illinois man were wrong
More definitive blood test results erase what was thought to be the first homegrown case of MERS in the U.S.
"We will continue to err on the side of caution" when investigating MERS in the U.S., CDC official says

Never mind! Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday an Illinois man did not contract MERS from an infected business associate after all.

The case, announced May 17, was believed to have been the first instance of human-to-human transmission of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus on U.S. soil. But upon further analysis, it wasn’t, said Dr. David Swerdlow, the epidemiologist who is leading the CDC’s response to MERS.

Initial blood tests “indicated the possibility that the unidentified Illinois resident had been previously infected with MERS-CoV,” Swerdlow said in a statement. But now that the results of a more definitive test are in, the CDC has concluded the man was never infected.

Public health officials investigated the Illinois man after a healthcare worker from Saudi Arabia was diagnosed with MERS in Munster, Ind. The Indiana patient was the first person with a confirmed case of MERS in the U.S.

The Illinois man aroused suspicion because he had two business meetings with the Indiana patient in the days before he was hospitalized. The two men shook hands and sat face-to-face for more than half an hour during their first meeting, Swerdlow told reporters May 17. The second meeting was shorter.

The Illinois man never felt sick and never sought medical care. But public health officials decided his contact with the Indiana patient was close enough to warrant testing for MERS antibodies, which are made by the immune system to fight off an infection.

Officials performed three types of blood tests. Two of them -- an enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA) and an immunofluorescent assay (IFA) -- seemed to indicate the presence of MERS antibodies. Those preliminary results prompted Swerdlow to announce the Illinois case May 17, which appeared to be the first homegrown case of MERS in the U.S.

In the days since then, officials completed a more time-consuming blood test called a neutralizing antibody assay. With all of the results in and carefully interpreted, CDC officials now say the Illinois man was never infected with MERS.

“It is our job to move quickly when there is a potential public health threat,” Swerdlow said Wednesday. “Because there is still much we don’t know about this virus, we will continue to err on the side of caution when responding to and investigating cases of MERS in this country.”

The Indiana patient has been released from the hospital and is doing well. A second patient in Florida has also fully recovered and was discharged from the hospital this month. That man is also a healthcare worker who had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia. The two cases are not linked, according to the CDC.

MERS is a respiratory disease that is thought to have originated in camels before spreading to people. It was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Humans have no natural defense against the virus, which has killed about 30% of the people known to be infected with it.

As of Wednesday, the World Health Organization has announced 635 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS. Among those patients, 193 have died.

So far, there is no evidence that MERS spreads easily from person to person. There have been some cases of transmission between close contacts, such as patients and the healthcare providers who care for them.

The primary symptoms of MERS are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some patients also have reported diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the CDC. In more severe cases, patients may develop pneumonia and kidney failure.

There is no vaccine for MERS, but the CDC says you can protect yourself from the virus by taking usual precautions, such as washing your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer. Doorknobs and other surfaces that are touched by many people should be cleaned and disinfected. Keep your distance from people who are sick, and don’t share cups or utensils with them.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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MERSU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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