MERS Cases Put Hospitalists on Alert for Infectious Disease


Patients diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Indiana and Florida have healthcare workers and hospitalists on the lookout for additional cases of the potentially fatal respiratory infection.

Hospitalists should pay attention to patients exhibiting fever and respiratory symptoms who traveled to the Arabian Peninsula in the 14 days prior to disease onset, and contact the hospital epidemiologist if MERS is suspected, says James Pile, MD, vice chair of the department of hospital medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

The CDC has reported three cases of MERS this month. The first, reported on May 2, involved a healthcare worker from Saudi Arabia who traveled to Indiana to visit family. The second was reported on May 11, when another visiting healthcare worker from Saudi Arabia checked into the emergency department in Orlando, Fla., after he fell ill with fever, chills, and a slight cough. Both patients are considered to be fully recovered.

The third MERS case is in an Illinois man who had a business meeting with the patient from Indiana and represents the first case of the virus being contracted in the U.S. A blood test confirmed that the Illinois man had been infected with the virus, but he’s reported that he no longer feels sick.

Caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV, MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. So far, there have been more than 600 confirmed cases around the world and 181 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

"The CDC suggests that the index U.S. case represents a very low threat to the general population in this country, and my sense is that that this will not turn out to be a major issue for the U.S. healthcare system, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about MERS," Dr. Pile says. “The scope of the issue should become much clearer over the next couple of months.”

For more information on MERS, check out this CDC fact sheet.

Read physician editor Danielle Scheurer's recent blog post on the MERS situation.

Visit our website for more information about hospitalists and infectious disease care.

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