MUNSTER | Health officials said Monday a man with a deadly Middle Eastern virus recovering at Community Hospital could be released soon. No new cases have been identified.
The man is a health care worker in Saudi Arabia. He was in Northwest Indiana visiting family when he fell ill, arriving at the Community Hospital emergency department with flu-like symptoms April 28.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday the case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) as the first in the United States.
MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. About 30 percent of patients die from it. Health officials do not know where the virus came from or how it spreads. There is no vaccine or treatment protocol for the virus. It tends to spread in hospitals with close contact, not in community settings.
The incubation period is between five and 14 days.
On Monday, Gov. Mike Pence was joined by local, state and federal health officials at the hospital to update the situation.
"The patient remains in good condition," said Dr. Daniel Feikin, team lead-medical epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess said it was "a little scary" to hear the first case of MERS was in Northwest Indiana, because so much is unknown about the virus.
On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago. He took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On April 27, he started experience increasing respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing and fever.
The patient does not recall coming into contact with any MERS patients in the Riyadh hospital where he worked, Feikin said.
About 100 people were on the plane with the man, and about 10 rode the same bus. So far, about three-quarters of the travelers have been contacted. None are displaying symptoms, Feikin said.
The patient has been kept in isolation, with hospital workers wearing masks, gloves, goggles and gowns when they enter his room, said Dr. Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer for Community Hospital.
"We expect him to be going home soon," he said.
The man's family members who interacted with him and the hospital workers who had contact with him are in isolation at home. They are monitored daily, and none have shown signs of the virus, Community Hospital CEO Don Fesko said.
"Approximately 50 of the 3,000 employees at Community Hospital had direct exposure to the patient prior to him being placed in full isolation precautions," he said. "Right now, we're following CDC recommendations – and they're saying up to 14 days – all 50 are on home isolation. We took the most conservative approach in agreement with the state and the CDC."
To identify every person who had contact with the patient before he was diagnosed, the hospital used Emergency Department surveillance camera footage to see who entered the room and for how long. They also used data gathered via employee badges that track their location. And they checked to see which clinicians made entries into the patient's electronic record, Fesko said.
"By those three tracking devices, we were quickly able to narrow the list down to the 50 providers that had exposure over about a 24-hour period," he said.
Pence commended the swift response by Community Hospital.
"At this time, we're encouraged that this virus has been contained," he said. "We are going to continue testing. We're going to exercise an abundance of caution and be vigilant until we reach a point of absolute confidence that any potential exposure of this virus to our citizens is a thing of the past."
Kumar said the patient was in a private area the entire time at the hospital. Interviews with him and his family helped determine the need to test for the virus.
All areas where the patient stayed have been disinfected following standard cleaning procedures for infectious patients. He is in a negative pressure room, meaning air rushes in when the door opens instead of rushing out to the hallway. The air exits through a ventilation system, Fesko said.
The hospital experienced a high call volume Saturday, but the calls dropped off Sunday as people learned of the low risk to the community, he said.
Fesko referenced Monday's news conference being set in the hospital, which demonstrated the low risk to the public.
"Obviously, the governor of Indiana, the commissioner of the Indiana department of health are not going to come into a facility or an area that they deem unsafe," he said. "I don't feel any higher risk than I do on any other day to work here at the hospital. The public should be at ease."
He admitted having some concern of the impact on operations, but business remains strong, he said.
The CDC will remain in Munster to monitor the case.
"We're here as long as we need to be," Feikin said.