MUNSTER, Ind. – The first American citizen diagnosed with a mysterious virus from the Middle East is improving daily and could be released soon from an Indiana hospital, although he will be isolated at home, health officials said Monday.
The man has been hospitalized at a Munster, Indiana, hospital since April 28. Officials said he fell ill with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, after flying to Chicago last month from Saudi Arabia, where he is a health care worker at a hospital in Riyadh.
The patient is an American citizen, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. The World Health Organization said he was in his 60s.
While health officials said the virus is not highly contagious, the hospital isolated at home 50 employees identified as having come in contact with the man before he was diagnosed, said Dr. Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer at Community Hospital, where the man has been treated.
Also as a precaution, members of the man’s family have been told to stay home and wear masks if they leave, Kumar said.
No health workers or family members who’ve had contact with the patient have tested positive for the virus, which has an incubation period of two to 14 days and appears in most cases within five days, said Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner William VanNess.
VanNess said discovery of the MERS case in Indiana was “a scary situation.”
“There are a lot of unknowns as you’ll find out about this particular virus,” he said. “As a physician, the father of five sons and grandfather to six, I understand the concerns and worries.”
Since MERS was discovered two years ago, at least 400 people have had the respiratory illness, and more than 100 people have died. All had ties to the Middle East region or to people who traveled there.
The MERS patient in Indiana flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to the United States on April 24, with a stop in London. He landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and took a bus to Indiana, health officials said. He went to the emergency room last Monday with a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“He no longer has any oxygen requirements. He’s in good spirits. He’s eating well and we have started the discharge planning process at this time,” Kumar said.
The patient understands he will need to remain isolated when he leaves the hospital, Kumar said. The man does not recall working directly with a MERS patient in Riyadh but said the hospital where he worked did have some MERS cases, officials said.
Federal and state officials are still trying to contact about 100 people who may have been on the airplane or bus with the patient.