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The MERS virus is not believed to spread through casual contact, but health care workers in close contact with patients who carry MERS may be at risk / AP/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

It's not confirmed yet, but two of the health care workers who treated a patient with MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, may have come down with the potentially lethal virus, hospital officials announced Tuesday.

If they are sick with MERS, it will be the first time the virus, which originated in Saudi Arabia, has been transmitted inside the United States.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama has been briefed on the MERS situation in Florida, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with Florida officials.

"Our team is watching it very closely," Carney said.

A man visiting family in Orlando from his home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, came down with the virus and went last Friday to the emergency room at the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando. He had felt ill since leaving Saudi Arabia on May 1, traveling through London, Boston and Atlanta en route to Orlando.

In the emergency room, he came into contact with 15 health care workers before an infectious disease expert at the hospital began to suspect MERS-CoV and had the man isolated. The virus is called MERS-CoV because it belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Since then, anyone in close contact with the patient has worn a mask and gown, said Kena Lewis, Phillips Hospital spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, the man had also gone to visit Orlando Regional Medical Center on May 5, accompanying someone who was getting medical testing, Lewis said. There, he came into close contact with a doctor and four other health care workers. All 20 employees of both hospitals were told to stay home on Sunday, once the man's infection was confirmed, to prevent possible spread of the virus, Lewis said.

She said she believes that patients who were in the waiting rooms with the man are not at any risk from the virus. But the CDC is notifying them of possible exposure out of caution.

Two of the workers have since reported feeling ill, though it is not clear yet whether they have MERS-CoV. One has been hospitalized because of pneumonia-like symptoms and is in stable condition, Lewis said. The other is resting at home with less severe flu-like symptoms. Their test results are expected Wednesday, she said.

The Orlando patient is the second confirmed case to reach the U.S. In late April, a health care worker was treated for MERS after he returned from work in Saudi Arabia.

So far, 538 patients worldwide have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV, 145 of whom have died. The virus, discovered two years ago, has begun spreading rapidly this spring.

Contributing: David Jackson



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Health workers in Orlando checked for MERS virus

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