Two Florida Hospital Workers May Be Exposed to MERS Virus

Two workers at the Florida hospital where federal officials reported a case of a potentially lethal Arabian virus have fallen ill after coming into contact with the patient.

One of the workers has been hospitalized and isolated, joining the first patient, a Saudi Arabia resident who was visiting family in the Orlando area, said Geo Morales, a spokesman for Dr. P. Phillips Hospital. The other worker was treated and sent home, Morales said.

The Saudi Arabian patient is the second person in the U.S. confirmed to be infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, a disease first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday. Federal officials say health-care workers who have contact with MERS-CoV patients before they are isolated risk contracting the virus.

“Everyone has been tested for the virus and we are waiting for results,” Morales said in an e-mail. He didn’t provide any other details on the patients.

Benjamin Haynes, a CDC spokesman, referred questions to the hospital. The U.S. cases have drawn the attention of President Barack Obama, who received a briefing and is “watching this very closely,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said today at a news conference.

The coronavirus has caused 538 cases of illness in 12 countries and 145 deaths, including 112 deaths in Saudi Arabia, according to the CDC, citing the World Health Organization.

The first U.S. case, an Indiana health-care worker returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia, was announced May 2. That patient has fully recovered and no new cases have been identified in the state, Indiana health authorities said. The Florida and Indiana cases are unrelated, according to the CDC.

The origin of the virus is unknown, although some connection to camels is suspected. There is no vaccine and no cure. Patients are treated for their symptoms, including respiratory distress, fever and coughing.

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