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Health Officials Report First U.S. Person-to-Person MERS Transmission

5/19/2014

The Wall Street Journal
By Betsy McKay
May 18, 2014

Health officials have reported the first apparent case of person-to-person transmission of the MERS virus in the U.S., with an Illinois man exhibiting evidence of infection after meeting with a doctor who was the first diagnosed U.S. case.

The man is a business associate of the doctor and didn't get sick enough to seek medical care, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring for and investigating Middle East Respiratory Syndrome cases in the U.S.

He and the doctor met for about 40 minutes in Illinois on April 25, sitting face to face about six feet apart, and had a second shorter meeting on April 26, the CDC said Saturday. The two men shook hands during the meetings. The doctor, a U.S. citizen who lives and works in Saudi Arabia, had just arrived in the U.S. to visit family and had developed a fever and other early symptoms of MERS.

The Illinois man's experience underscores two points scientists have been urging countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has had the bulk of MERS cases, to study more thoroughly: how the disease is transmitted, and how many people are infected, including those who don't get very sick.

Little is known about the disease's dynamics even though the first cases emerged more than two years ago.

It is the first known case of transmission of MERS within the U.S. and suggests that the disease may be caught through more casual encounters than public health officials have previously described. They have said that they believe MERS spreads from person to person generally through only close contact such as living with an infected person or caring for them in a hospital.

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