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Hospital Workers Remain on MERS Watch

MERS_CoV_particle_from_CDC_by_CYnthia_Goldsmith_and_Azaibi_Tamin.jpg
CDC-- Cynthia Goldsmith, Azaibi Tamin
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  The 20 Orlando hospital workers who came in contact with a man infected by a rare virus continue to wait at home to see if they develop symptoms, health officials say.

So far, none of them – including the one Dr. Phillips Hospital employee admitted for flu-like symptoms - has tested positive for MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

However, the 15 workers at Dr. Phillips and five workers from Orlando Regional Medical have been told to stay home for two weeks to watch for fever, chills and muscle aches, said Dr. Antonio Crespo, an official with the hospital system.

The 44-year-old patient – who works at a hospital in his native Saudi Arabia - was being treated at Dr. Phillips Hospital, where he showed up at the emergency room May 8. Three days earlier, he had visited Orlando Regional Medical Center with a friend who went to the hospital for a test.

Two workers at Dr. Phillips Hospital, who were not identified, have shown flu-like symptoms recent days. One of them was sent home, and the other has been hospitalized in isolation. Both are awaiting test results that could come later this week.

Crespo said MERS has been shown to have a 14-day incubation period. MERS is a respiratory illness that begins with flu-like fever and cough but can lead to shortness of breath, pneumonia and death.

“We are prepared for situations like this. This is what we do every day,” Crespo said.

Crespo said the Saudi resident spent most of his time in Orlando at the home he was staying at, and he didn’t visit any of the area’s tourist attractions. The 44-year-old patient still has a low-grade fever and is being treated in isolation at Dr. Phillips Hospital.

Dr. Kevin Sherin, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said that though those who came into contact with the man are being monitored, the risk to local residents remains “negligible.”

Meantime, health officials in Saudi Arabia say another five people have died after contracting the virus, which has sickened hundreds in the country.

The Saudi Health Ministry provided the death toll in its latest MERS update late on Monday.

The ministry says eight new cases were discovered in the country over the past 24 hours, in the cities of Riyadh, Jiddah and Medina.

A total of 147 people have died and 491 have been confirmed to have contracted the virus in Saudi Arabia since it was discovered in 2012. Most cases of the disease have been in the desert kingdom.

The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the MERS cases in the U.S.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama’s team is watching the situation very closely and that the Centers for Disease Control is coordinating responses along with Florida officials.