2 hospital workers sick, cared for Orlando MERS patient

By John W. Davis, Caroline Rowland and Natalie Tolomeo, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
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Health officials in Orlando said a man with a case of the MERS virus is doing well, and 20 health care team members who were in contact with the patient, who was visiting from Saudi Arabia, have been sent home for 14 days as a precaution.

Now tests are being done to see if two of those 20 workers have contracted MERS. The two are exhibiting flu-like symptoms. One was admitted to the hospital, the other was sent home. If they do have it, they'll be the first patients to contract the illness in the United States who did not travel to the Middle East.

“If one of these cases, the healthcare workers that we have tested here comes back positive, they will be monitored," said Dr. Antonio Crespo with Orlando Health. "Let’s say if they are symptomatic they will be monitored for symptoms. They will be asked to stay home. They will be quarantined. They will stay home. This will be in conjunction with the Department of Health and the CDC.”

MERS is a potentially fatal respiratory illness that has sickened nearly 500 people and killed 147 in Saudi Arabia since the virus was discovered in 2012. The case confirmed Monday is the first reported in Florida and the second in the U.S.


Q&A with Orlando Health

Story continues below


Below are notes taken from a news conference at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando. Speakers included:

  • Dr. Antonio Crespo, with Dr. P. Phillips Hospital
  • Dr. Ken Michaels, Medical Director for Occupational Health, Orlando Health
  • Dr. Kevin Sherin, Orange County Health Director

The patient is a 44-year-old male health care worker from Saudi Arabia who was visiting relatives in the Orlando area. He began to experience symptoms of muscle aches on his initial flight on April 30 from Saudi Arabia to London, and began to experience a fever and chills on subsequent flights to Boston, then to Atlanta, and finally into Orlando on May 1.

The patient mostly stayed at his relatives' home and did not visit any Orlando theme parks or attractions, because he was not feeling well.

Health officials said the patient went to Orlando Regional Medical Center on May 5, accompanying another person to an unrelated appointment.

The patient then went to Dr. P. Phillips Hospital on May 8, stayed overnight, and was admitted into the emergency room on May 9. At that time, Orange County Health officials contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a possible case of MERS. Testing began on May 9, and the virus was confirmed Monday, May 12.

As of Tuesday, May 13, Dr. Crespo said the patient was doing "very well." His main symptom was a low-grade fever of 102. He also has a minimal cough, but is in good spirits.

Everyone who was in contact with patient has been contacted and tested, including family members, 15 staff members at Dr. Phillips Hospital and five staff members at ORMC. Those 20 staff members were sent home under quarantine for 14 days as a precaution. Health officials have been checking in on the 20 staff members daily.

Crespo said two team members complained of flu-like symptoms. One was admitted into the hospital, but was said to be doing well.

Previous updates

MERS is a respiratory illness that begins with flu-like fever and cough but can lead to shortness of breath, pneumonia and death. One-third of those who develop symptoms die from it.

Most MERS cases have been in Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. But earlier in May, the first U.S. case was diagnosed in an American man who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Indiana. That man was a health care worker at a hospital in Saudi Arabia's capital city who flew to the United States on April 24.

After landing in Chicago, the man took a bus to Munster, Indiana, where he became sick and went to a hospital on April 28. He then improved and was released from the hospital late last week. Tests of people who were around the man have all proved negative, health officials have said.

MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which caused some 800 deaths globally in 2003.

The MERS virus has been found in camels, but officials don't know how it is spreading to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. Not all those exposed to the virus become ill.

But it appears to be unusually lethal -- by some estimates, it has killed nearly one-third of the people it sickened. That's a far higher percentage than seasonal flu or other routine infections. But it is not as contagious as flu, measles or other diseases. There is no vaccine or cure and there's no specific treatment except to relieve symptoms.

The Florida Department of Health is expecting more cases. And, since the virus is killing three out of 10 patients in the Middle East, doctors in Central Florida are on high alert.

Overall, 152 people have died and 495 people have contracted the respiratory illness. So far, all had ties to the Middle East region or to people who traveled there.