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Deadly Middle East virus arrives in Munster

This file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. Health officials on Friday said the deadly virus from the Middle East has turned up for the first time in the U.S.

MUNSTER | The first U.S. case of a deadly virus that originated in the Middle East has been confirmed in Northwest Indiana.

The infected person is being treated at Community Hospital and is in stable condition, requiring oxygen support, according to Indiana and national health officials. In a statement, Community Hospital described the patient as being in good condition. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Friday afternoon.

The hospital has contacted all high-risk individuals.

"We are maintaining appropriate isolation protocols for the protection of health care staff," it stated.

The hospital stated it worked quickly to institute isolation protocols.

"Community Hospital has been working cooperatively with the CDC and ISDH regarding tracking of patient family members and monitoring of exposed health care workers. This patient was not out in the local community and, therefore, any public exposure was minimal," the hospital stated.

The patient's activities have been limited in the U.S. and widespread cases are not expected, the hospital stated.

"However, in an abundance of caution, the exposed family members and health care workers will be monitored daily throughout the 14-day incubation period to watch for the development of any signs or symptoms of MERS-CoV," Community Hospital stated.

Because there is limited data regarding the virus, and because this is the first confirmed case in the United States, Community Hospital will be a data surveillance site for the CDC.

As noted by the Indiana Governor’s Office and the ISDH, Community Hospital recognized and identified this rare disease and acted quickly to contain the situation and protect the public.

The state department of health recommends, in an abundance of caution, that people who visited the emergency department at Community Hospital between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Monday to watch for signs and symptoms.

Those who experience symptoms such as congestion, cough, fever over 100.4, shortness of breath, pneumonia, body aches and diarrhea should call their health care provider about possible exposure. 

The Indiana State Department of Health has established a hotline for Hoosiers to call with questions. The hotline will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. The number is (877) 826-0011.

The infected patient, a health care worker, flew April 24 from Saudi Arabia to London and then to Chicago.

The person rode a bus from Chicago to Indiana, health officials said.

On Tuesday, the patient experienced shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The person went to the Emergency Department at Community Hospital Wednesday and was admitted that day.

Because of the patient's symptoms and recent travel, doctors tested for MERS-CoV. MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

As of Friday, 262 people in 12 countries were confirmed to have the disease, and 93 died. More than 100 other patients have a confirmed case but are not included in the World Health Organization tally, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service and Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. 

Health officials do not know where the virus came from or how it spreads. There is no vaccine or treatment protocol for the virus. The virus does tends to spread in hospitals, not in community settings, Schuchat said.

"We expected it to come to the U.S., and we have been preparing for this," she said. "MERS is now in our heartland." 

There is a very low risk to the general public in connection with the local case, she said.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said the state has deployed the full resources of the Indiana State Department of Health to track the case, assess the risk to the public and work to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“We are working in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and encourage those who may have been exposed to this virus to report any symptoms to their medical provider and take all necessary precautions," he said. 

To help prevent the spread of the virus, people are advised to wash their hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw it away; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, avoid close contact with sick people and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.