2 hospital workers test negative for MERS virus, more tests underway

By Caroline Rowland, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
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Two staff members at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital have tested negative for the MERS virus after caring for a man with a confirmed case of the virus, Orlando Health officials said Wednesday.

The two negative tests include one staff member who was hospitalized Monday after developing flu-like symptoms that are also attributed to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, which was confirmed Monday in a health care worker from Saudi Arabia who was visiting Orlando.

Health officials are still awaiting test results on 18 other health care workers from Dr. P. Phillips Hospital and Orlando Regional Medical Center who were in contact with the patient. Those staff members were given a 14-day paid leave from work as a precaution. Family members of the MERS patient are also being tested.

"We believe this infection is contained and we do not believe there is a risk publics health," said Dr. Kevin Sherin with Florida Health Department in Orlando. "We've identified the people who were in close contact and all the tests are in process or have been completed."

The patient who tested positive for the MERS virus remains in isolation at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital. Doctors said he has been fever-free for 24 hours and is doing well.

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"If we actually identify that some of the close contacts have tested positive for the MERS virus, we would go to the next phase for the community contact and we would actually test them, even if they aren’t running any symptoms," said Dr. Kevin Sherin from the Florida Department of Health.

The MERS patient is a health care worker from Saudi Arabia and was visiting relatives in the Orlando.

Officials said 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.

After accompanying another person for an unrelated appointment to Orlando Regional Medical Center May 5, the man then went to Dr. P. Phillips Hospital three days later. The MERS virus was confirmed Monday, May 12.

Fifteen staff members at Dr. Phillips and five at ORMC were tested and sent home for 14 days as a precaution. Officials have not said where the two complaining of flu-like symptoms worked.

At a news conference Tuesday, Dr. Antonio Crespo said the patient was doing "very well." He was experiencing a low-grade fever of 102 and has a minimal cough.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be posting fliers at 20 U.S. airports warning travelers about MERS.

The CDC isn't recommending any changes for travel plans. However, officials are informing travelers heading to the Arabian Peninsula to avoid sick people and wash their hands often.

Medical experts said there isn't a threat to the public at this time, but residents need to remain cautious.

President Barack Obama has been briefed on the MERS virus and Orlando case. His administration said the CDC is taking the lead to limit the virus' spread.