(Adds details from CDC conference call)
By Julie Steenhuysen
May 12 U.S. health officials confirmed the country's second case of MERS, a deadly virus first discovered in the Middle East in 2012, and said the patient was in good condition in an Orlando, Florida hospital.
The patient, 44, is a healthcare worker who lives and works in Saudi Arabia and traveled to the United States to visit relatives. He was admitted to the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando on May 9.
The case is the second "imported" instance of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, reaching U.S. soil, but the two are not related, Dr Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on a conference call.
Schuchat said the man traveled on May 1 from Jeddah to London, and then from London to Boston. From Boston, the patient took a flight to Atlanta, changed planes again, before arriving in Orlando.
She said the patient was feeling ill on the flight from Jeddah, but did not feel sick enough to seek treatment until last Friday.
It is not clear in which hospital the patient worked, but Schuchat said she believes he was working in a facility that was caring for people with MERS.
The CDC said it is not clear whether the person was infectious on the plane, but it is now contacting some 500 people who traveled on the same U.S. flights as the infected health worker "out of an abundance of caution," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told reporters on the call.
Frieden said the latest U.S. case of MERS was "unwelcome but not unexpected news," and added it now falls to the U.S. hospital and healthcare workers in general to observe meticulous infection control procedures to keep the virus contained.
Frieden said the CDC now has a team in Saudi Arabia working with "international partners" to try to help contain the spread of the virus and better understand how it is transmitted.
So far, an analysis of the genetic sequences of the virus suggest it has not changed in the past two years.
Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Florida hospital, which is located near the Disney theme park, said the institution is tracking any of its workers who might have come in contact with the patient.
"We do believe there is a low risk the virus is being spread by him," Morales said, noting that his symptoms were mild when he arrived at the hospital and that he did not have a cough.
The other U.S. MERS case involved a man who flew from Saudi Arabia and traveled to Indiana earlier this month.
The patient in that case, a U.S. healthcare worker who lives and works in Saudi Arabia, flew from Riyadh to London and then Chicago, before boarding a bus to Highland, Indiana. He then began experiencing symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, and sought care at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana.
After confirming the patient had MERS, the CDC and state and hospital officials traced all of the workers with whom he had contact, and all have so far tested negative for the virus.
The CDC has also checked airline and bus manifests to see if the man might have infected others during his journey and so far have not turned up any evidence fellow travelers were infected.
The patient is now clear of the virus and was released on Friday. Hospital workers remain in home isolation until the end of a 14-day incubation period, when they will be rechecked for the virus.
Although the MERS virus has been shown to transmit from person to person, it is not easily transmissible to the general public.
Saudi officials said on Friday that the number of infections in the country has reached 473. The death toll from the virus is 133 since it was identified two years ago, according to the kingdom's health ministry. (Reporting by Michele Gershberg and Julie Steenhuysen, additional reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando; Editing by Chris Reese and Andre Grenon)