BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ AND MONIFA THOMAS Staff Reporters May 5, 2014 10:58AM
Doctor Alan Kumar gave an update on the patient and information regarding his treatment at Community Hospital. | Shane Cleminson/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 5, 2014 9:45PM
The health care worker who was the first, and so far only, U.S. case of the often fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is “improving day by day” at a Munster, Ind., hospital, officials treating him said Monday.
The man, who has not been identified, remains in isolation but is in good condition, said Dr. Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer at Community Hospital in Munster. The patient no longer needs oxygen and is eating well, Kumar said.
“We expect him to be going home soon,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana State Department of Health announced Friday that the patient had been diagnosed with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a flu-like coronavirus believed to originate from the Middle East. MERS kills about 30 percent of people who have it. State and federal officials say no additional people have shown signs of the fatal respiratory disease.
The Indiana patient, who lives in Saudi Arabia and works at a hospital there, continues to improve and should be released from the hospital soon, Kumar said. Health officials would not elaborate on details about the patient’s identity. The patient landed at O’Hare Airport on April 24 before taking a bus to Indiana. He became ill three days later and went to the hospital’s emergency room April 28, officials said.
No new cases of MERS have been detected among the man’s family members or the health care workers who treated him, officials said. The patient’s family and all hospital employees who came into direct contact with the patient are under home confinement and continue to be monitored for any signs of MERS. But a statement from the health department Monday night said preliminary laboratory results show hospital employees who came into contact with the patient and the patient’s close family contacts tested negative for MERS.
Indiana Health Commissioner William VanNess acknowledged it is “still a fluid situation.”
Officials also said no symptoms have been reported among people who may have come into contact with the patient before he was admitted to Community Hospital, such as on the plane and on the bus. And, Kumar said the patient has never been in contact with any other patient in the hospital.
“Having the first case of MERS in the United States right here in Indiana is a scary situation,” VanNess said.
Dr. Daniel Feikin, an epidemiologist and team leader for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said officials are being “very vigilant” for up to 14 days to watch for symptoms.
Feikin said there is no evidence the disease spreads through incidental contact with a patient and that closer contact through caring for a patient is needed to spread it.
He added that about three-quarters of the people who were on the patient’s flight to Chicago have been contacted and have all tested negative. The CDC is still working on contacting the rest and also 10 people who were on a bus with the patient to Northwest Indiana, Feikin said.
Gov. Mike Pence praised Community Hospital’s quick action in dealing with the patient, which he said helped stop the spread of MERS.
Most cases of MERS had been in the Middle East. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people with the disease have a fever, cough and shortness of breath. MERS, which was first identified in 2012, has killed about 30 percent of the patients who have had it, according to the CDC.