MERS symptoms show up in 2 U.S. health workers

Two health-care workers at a hospital in Florida are showing symptoms of flu-like illness after exposure to a patient infected with MERS, officials say.

Florida MERS patient is 44-year-old health-care provider who lives and works in Saudi Arabia

Dr. Kevin Sherin, right, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County speaks as Dr. Antonio Crespo, left, the chief quality officer at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, gives an update about a 44-year-old MERS patient. (Associated Press)

Two health-care workers at a hospital in Florida are showingsymptoms of flu-like illness after exposure to a Saudi resident infected with MERS, officials say.
One of the two workers has been hospitalized, and the other has been isolated in his home and is being monitored for signs of infection.

MERS is a respiratory illness that begins with flu-like fever and cough, but can lead to shortness of breath and pneumonia. 

"Two of the team members that came yesterday [Monday] for testing after they were contacted, they were showing flu-like symptoms," Dr. Antonio Crespo, an infectious disease specialist who is treating the travel-related MERS patient, said Tuesday.

Florida's MERS patient is a 44-year-old health-care provider who lives and works in Saudi Arabia, health officials say. He has a low fever and is being treated in isolation at Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando.

Crespo said officials are awaiting test results on the two Orlando hospital workers, who were in contact with the MERS patient before proper isolation precautions, such as wearing masks, were introduced.

"Before the patient came to the hospital, he was not having cough. He was not having respiratory symptoms, so we believe that that makes less risk of transmission to other potential contacts," Crespo said.

Isolate first, ask questions later

Health officials in Florida are taking an aggressive approach and it's the right one, said Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto.

"The way to deal with something like this, which is also something we learned during SARS, is that if you want to stop it early on, you bring out a sledgehammer. You become extremely aggressive at isolating and testing people and then there's no surprises."

About 15 other workers at Dr. Phillips Hospital, as well as five workers at a second Orlando hospital where the Saudi resident visited, have been asked to stay home from work for two weeks until they are cleared of having the virus.

One of the workers is a doctor who travelled to Canada, a hospital spokesperson said.

"For privacy concerns, we are not revealing the location of this physician. What we can say is that the physician has been notified of our patient’s positive MERS test results, which he did not know prior to travel. Because he is a physician, he understands and is following the proper precautions. As late as this afternoon, he is not symptomatic and efforts are underway now to co-ordinate testing in his current location,” Geo Morales, a spokesman for Orlando Health, said in an email to CBC News.

Family caregivers and health-care workers treating a patient who is actively coughing are thought be at greater risk of contracting MERS, said Dr. Kevin Sherin, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

In contrast, the risk to the general public is low.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber, Amina Zafar, Reuters and The Associated Press