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Two Confirmed Cases Of MERS In The United States

Last updated Sept. 16, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

For the first time, the CDC reported the first case of the MERS-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) by a traveler from Saudi Arabia who landed in Chicago, IL, before taking a bus to Indiana on May 2nd.


For the first time, the United States confirms two cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first case of the MERS-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) by a traveler from Saudi Arabia who landed in Chicago, IL, before taking a bus to Indiana on May 2nd.

"We've anticipated MERS reaching the US, and we've prepared for and are taking swift action," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden after the first confirmed case. "This case reminds us that we are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink."

He added that in this "interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS-CoV to make its way to the US." As such, the CDC has been preparing for this since 2012, when the first case was reported in Saudi Arabia.

A second unrelated case was confirmed on May 12th, when a health care worker traveled from Saudi Arabia to Boston, MA. The patient then traveled by plane to Atlanta, GA, then finally Orlando, FL. 

The disease is caused by a coronavirus, which is known to produce mild-to-severe upper-respiratory-tract illnesses. Individuals with MERS have experienced symptoms, including a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The origin of the virus remains unknown, but recent research found sub-strains of MERS in single-humped camels located in Saudi Arabia. 

Researchers are still investigating how people contract the virus, since most MERS patients had no recognized contact with camels. There is currently no available vaccine or treatment for the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) report that there have been 536 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection in 12 countries and 145 individuals have died. All reported cases have traveled from seven countries in the Arabian Peninsula.

A WHO Committee released a statement on May 14th affirming that because there have been no evidence of human-to-human transmission, the circumstances to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern have not yet been met.

The CDC still suggests clinicians, health officials and others to "increase awareness of the need to consider MERS-CoV infection in persons who have recently traveled from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula." 

The CDC suggests individuals to protect themselves by washing their hands often and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

Dr. Frieden says, “That's one of the reasons we focus on helping other countries find and stop emerging infections such as MERS promptly and preventing them wherever that's possible. This is one of the reasons that we've recently stepped up our efforts to improve global health protection and global health security because we really are all connected by the air we breathe, by the water we drink and by the food we eat and by the airplanes that we ride on.”

Additional Resources:

CDC MERS
CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
WHO news release

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 16, 2014
Last updated: Sept. 16, 2015