A second confirmed case of a U.S. patient having contracted Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is enough for the Transportation Security Administration to begin posting health advisories at select airports – and for the Centers for Disease Control to try and track down more than 500 passengers who might have flown with the man on his four flights from Saudi Arabia to Orlando.
This is a reminder of course of what happened in 2003 with the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). More than 500 people have been afflicted with MERS – about a quarter of them have died – but these are the first two known cases in the U.S.
The first MERS patient has recovered and was sent home; the second, a 44-year old male, is currently in isolation in an Orlando hospital. Health officials are testing and evaluating about 20 healthcare workers at two Orlando hospitals who came into contact with the man.
The CDC, meanwhile, is taking on the Herculean task of trying to track down more than 500 passengers who sat with or near the man on his four flights last month from Saudi Arabia to Boston to Atlanta to Orlando.
MERS-CoV is different from any other coronavirus that has been previously found in people. Symptoms of MERS have included fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The CDC is working with the World Health Organization and other partners to understand the public health risks from this virus.
The TSA has issued health advisories at about 20 airports, warning passengers who are traveling to the Arabian Peninsula. With Dubai having emerged as the world’s biggest and busiest airport, there is great concern that the disease can travel faster and further than SARS a decade earlier.
The CDC advises travelers to take these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of germs and protect against colds, flu, and other illnesses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Be sure you are up-to-date with all of your shots, and if possible, see your health care provider at least 4–6 weeks before travel to get any additional shots.