Two Orlando Health Care Workers Exposed to MERS Patient Fall Ill

Posted on May 13, 2014

Two Orlando health care workers exposed to the MERS patient may have contracted MERS. The MERS patient is the second confirmed case of MERS in the U.S. The first was a patient in Indiana who has recovered. The Orlando patient was symptomatic at the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando, Florida. This means health care workers who attended to him - unaware he had MERS - were potentially exposed to the virus because they were not wearing masks.

The MERS patient is reportedly recovering and in "great spirits" while another article says the patient "still has a fever." CNN reports that two health care workers that came into contact with the man have flu-like symptoms. They have not been confirmed to have MERS - tests are currently being conducted. One health care worker was sent home while the other has been hospitalized. The Orlando Sentinel reports that a total of 20 hospital workers that came into contact with the patient before he was put into isolation are at home in isolation where they are to remain for 14 days. The incubation period for MERS can be as long as two weeks.

There is no cure for MERS, which has killed about 28% of the 570+ patients who have contracted it to date. It is not thought to spread easily from human-to-human, however health care workers have been contracting the virus from patients in Saudi Arabia.

Reuters reports that disease experts say it is crucial that anyone coming into hospitals with respiratory symptoms be asked if they have traveled to Saudi Arabia. This would help get MERS patients into isolation more quickly and reduce exposing health care workers. Sick health care workers pose a double problem. Not only do you have another sick patient, but you also have a reduction in the amount of people available to treat the sick.

WHO is holding an emergency meeting on MERS to determine if it constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern." If it is determined to be of a high enough risk then travel advisories could be issued. There were travel advisories during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The CDC currently has an "Alert Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions" for people traveling to several countries in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia.

Update 4-14-14: Reuters reports that the two hospital workers who fell ill have tested negative for MERS. Tests of 20 hospital staff who came into contact with the MERS patient have also so far tested negative for MERS.