MERS Just Showed Up In America: It's Less Contagious Than SARS, But Far More Deadly

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS has officially shown up in America. The virus, which affects lungs, was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, but the first U.S. case wasn't reported until Friday, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged in a conference call that an American patient has it. About 30 percent of the people who have gotten the virus have died, according to the CDC. Though nobody knows exactly where the virus got started, scientists have growing evidence that it originates with camels.

The patient, who recently traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to work in a healthcare facility there, showed up in Indiana on April 24 after taking a plane from Riyadh to London, another plane from London to Chicago, and then a bus from Chicago to Indiana. Three days later, he started showing symptoms of the virus, including shortness of breath, fever, and coughing, and went to the hospital the next day, April 28, where he's currently in isolation.

All that travel is concerning, because it exposed the infected man to a lot of uninfected people traveling all over the globe. Fortunately, the virus is not known to easily transfer from person to person. On the call, Dr. Anne Schuchat, who heads up the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the patient posed a relatively small risk to the general public.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. The introduction of MERS-CoV is another reminder that diseases are just a plane ride away.
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The abbreviation MERS-CoV means MERS Coronavirus. A coronavirus is a crowned, spiky virus that usually causes mild to moderate infections in the upper-respiratory tract. SARS is also a coronavirus. SARS killed just under 10 percent of those it infected in 2003 and 2004, but to date MERS, which has infected 254 people, has led to 93 deaths, according to confirmed cases documented by the World Health Organization. (Saudi Arabia says there have been considerably more cases.)