MERS Brings Concern to Med City

Created: 05/06/2014 6:53 PM
By: Hannah Tran

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has killed 30 percent of those who've contracted it.

The first U.S. case showed up in Indiana recently and local experts are taking notice.  

Dr. Pritish Tosh, a Mayo Clinic specialist with infectious diseases, recently examined the MERS virus first hand in Saudi Arabia.

"The sheer number of infections with MERS we've seen in just April 2014 is raising some alarms," said Dr. Tosh.

MERS is a severe, viral respiratory illness. Victims experience coughing, fever, shortness of breathe, and even pneumonia. It was first discovered in the Middle East in 2012. Since then, 93 of the 254 patients with MERS have died. Dr. Tosh says there are lots of factors that could be causing it to spike within the past month.

"Over half of the total number of MERS cases we've found was the total number found in April 2014," said Dr. Tosh.

He says there are a variety of possible reasons, but no theory has been settled upon.

"It could be temperature, humidity, or general travel, but also we are seeing this in young camels," stated Dr. Tosh.

There's speculation that camels are a source, but that has yet to be confirmed as well. For now, the Saudi Arabia cases have been linked to the Arabian Peninsula.

"We are also seeing seeing secondary infections, meaning close contact or health care workers, who were taking care of these primary cases," said Dr. Tosh.

The first U.S. case cropped up within the last month as well. The patient was working as a health care provider in Saudi Arabia. From there, he traveled to London, then returned to Chicago before finally catching a bus to Indiana. Even so, Dr. Daniel Lucey from Georgetown University Medical Center, says, "it's extraordinarily unlikely that there will be an outbreak of MERS in the United States."

Experts say it's not highly contagious.

"Thankfully right now we are not seeing sustained human to human transmission, but that gives us a small window of time to intervene," stated Dr. Tosh.

The MERS victim in Indiana is reportedly doing well and could soon be released from the hospital. 

There is currently no cure or vaccine for MERS at this time.

Photo: ABC 6 News