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CDC Expert: What Illinoisans Need to Know About MERS

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PHOTO: An Illinois man is reported to have contracted the MERS-CoV virus from an infected Indiana man who had traveled to Saudia Arabia, one of the areas of concern to health officials. Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
PHOTO: An Illinois man is reported to have contracted the MERS-CoV virus from an infected Indiana man who had traveled to Saudia Arabia, one of the areas of concern to health officials. Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
May 20, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – With recent word that an Illinois man contracted the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, some Illinoisans are concerned about what it could mean for public health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois resident had contact with a person in Indiana, who was infected while traveling in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. David Swerdlow, who leads the CDC's response team for this virus, says while the disease spreads from person to person, it isn't easily transmitted.

"There's been no sustained transmission like you see with flu, where it goes from person to person to person,” he stresses. “So, at the current time, we are concerned about the virus, we do think that there could be imported cases, but we don't see this being a major problem in the U.S. with widespread cases."

Local health officials have been monitoring the Illinois patient's health for more than two weeks, and he is reported to be feeling well.

A third case reported in Florida is not linked to the other two.

MERS-CoV was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and there have been almost 600 confirmed cases in 15 countries, and 173 deaths.

Swerdlow says most patients develop a respiratory illness, with fever, cough and shortness of breath. And he says there is no specific treatment.

"Of course, if a person gets a respiratory illness like this they can be treated in an intensive care unit if needed, and sort of the standard things that we do for patients with respiratory illness,” he says. “But there's no specific treatment, like an anti-viral. "

The CDC advises healthcare workers traveling to the Arabian Peninsula to follow guidelines for infection control, and for other travelers to take precautions to protect their health.

As with any respiratory illness, Swerdlow says that means frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with those who are sick.

Illinoisans with concerns or questions can call the state Health Department at 844-565-0256.


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL