The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

US MERS case spread disease to a contact; first onward spread in North America

  • Print
This file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the U.S. has seen what is likely the first sign of local transmission of MERS. The CDC is reporting the first man who brought the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus to the United States seems to have infected someone with whom he had two business meetings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Enlarge Image

This file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the U.S. has seen what is likely the first sign of local transmission of MERS. The CDC is reporting the first man who brought the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus to the United States seems to have infected someone with whom he had two business meetings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases

North America appears to have seen its first case of onward transmission of the MERS virus, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing Saturday that a contact of the first U.S. case has developed antibodies to the virus.

An unidentified man from Illinois, described as a business associate of the first U.S. case, appears to have been infected with the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, the CDC revealed during a hastily called news conference.

The two men met for between 30 and 40 minutes on April 25, and again briefly the next day. They reportedly shook hands during the meetings.

Officials at the World Health Organization and the CDC have stressed the MERS virus does not currently transmit easily from person to person. They have suggested that close and prolonged contact may be need to pass the virus from an infected person to one who is healthy.

When pressed to explain how transmission during a business meeting was consistent with that pattern, the CDC's point person for MERS virus, Dr. David Swerdlow, said the two men had face-to-face contact within a range of about two metres.

"We still don't think that this virus transmits easily, but it does transmit," Swerdlow said. "And that's why we've been concerned all along."

Swerdlow acknowledged that little is currently known about how the MERS virus is spread. Questions remain about who is likely to transmit virus — only severe cases or mild infections too? — and when during an infection a person can transmit the virus.

Still, he suggested this case hasn't led the CDC to rethink its ideas about the risk of MERS virus transmission.

But an infectious diseases expert who has been following the MERS situation closely said it should make public health officials think twice before rushing to assuaging people that the risks posed by the MERS virus are low.

"We in public health have to take a step back and not be so reassuring to the public that the chance of transmission is actually very small," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

"One case does not change the overall risk picture here.... But it should give public health a real cause to pause its message that this is hard to transmit."

Osterholm also lamented the fact that answers to the transmission questions are still not available, even though the virus has been infecting people for at least two years. The first known cases occurred in Jordan in April 2012.

"One of the unfortunate situations here is that for more than a year we've been calling for the kind of epidemiologic studies that would give us a better handle on this very kind of information. Who is it that's most likely to transmit? And who is most likely to become infected?" Osterholm noted.

"We don't understand who will transmit this virus and where and how do they do it."

Many of those calls for studies have been directed to Saudi Arabia. With the lion's share of MERS cases, it is best positioned to do the type of research that would answer key questions about where the virus comes from, how people are becoming infected and to flesh out the dynamics of human-to-human spread. But so far the country has not undertaken some of these critical studies.

To date there have been over 600 MERS infections in 19 countries; roughly 180 of those cases have been fatal. All cases trace back to several Arabian Peninsula countries, most notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Swerdlow said public health officials are now investigating family members and contacts of the man from Illinois to see if any have experienced symptoms that might be MERS infection. He could not put a number of how many people the investigation encompasses.

At the time the two men met, the first case was already feeling unwell. The man, an American doctor, had travelled a couple of days earlier from Saudi Arabia where he lives and works, to Munster, Ind., where he has family.

Swerdlow would not reveal the second man's age, occupation or the municipality in which he lives. The man had some mild cold-like symptoms in the days after the meeting, but is now described as well. Swerdlow said the man has been isolating himself since May 3 at the request of health officials, as a precaution.

At the present time the man from Illinois is not being called a MERS case. Swerdlow explained that the WHO's definition of MERS infection requires that a person test positive for signs of the virus during infection. The Illinois man tested negative.

Follow-up blood testing showed he developed antibodies to the virus, which is a sign he was infected.

There have been other instances outside of North America where people believed to have contracted MERS only tested positive with antibody tests. The WHO currently classes them as "probable" MERS infections.

Swerdlow said the CDC will be discussing with the WHO whether the case definition should change. But he acknowledged that different laboratories use different antibody tests, which makes it hard to standardize test results.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Tree remover has special connection to Grandma Elm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A mother goose has chosen a rather busy spot to nest her eggs- in the parking lot of St Vital Centre on a boulevard. Countless cars buzz by and people have begun to bring it food.-Goose Challenge Day 06 - May 08, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Ruth Bonneville Winnipeg Free Press January 18, 2011 Local Standup -

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you like Gord Steeves’ idea to sell four city-owned golf courses to fund road renewal?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google