Why MERS in the Florida, Indiana is probably not the zombie apocalypse (and one scenario in which it is a real concern)
Updates at bottom!
Original: According to ABC News, the CDC has confirmed that the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the United States (or anywhere is the Americas, for that matter) has been diagnosed in Indiana.
So is this the zombie apocalypse? Probably not. I speculate that the Indiana case is probably a traveler recently returned from the Arabian Peninsula. The patient, perhaps an older gentleman based on the overall epidemiology of the disease, may have had contact with a camel or camel products during his travels. Or he may have contracted it from a sick family member, or from a stint in a hospital. At this point, there are almost no details.
There have been several cases exported from the Arabian Peninsula recently, but none of those cases have spread the infection to other passengers (as far as we know). The greatest risk for human to human transmission is for family members and healthcare workers in close contact with the infected. Since the United States generally has very good infection control procedures, the risk of healthcare acquired cases here is presumably low. It also helps that according to the WHO, the MERS incubation period is not infectious, which means that people do not transmit the virus when they are not showing symptoms.
Although my assessment is that this new case does not pose an enormous risk, there is one scenario where my assessment would change - and that's if the disease has changed. There have been as many cases in April as the entire two years previous, combined. This could be due to a number of things - a change in reporting or case finding, a change in animal to human transmission, or a change in the disease. If the latter is the case, and the disease has mutated to become more easily passed from human to human, then that would be cause for serious concern.
4:30 update: So what's next? Epidemiologists at the local, state and federal level will contact all of the people that had contact with the patient, including fellow travelers, friends, family, healthcare workers, etc. All of those people will be monitored for the duration of the incubation period (at least 14 days, probably more to be on the safe side). If any of those people show symptoms, they will be isolated and tested for MERS. If they test positive, their contacts will also be traced, and so on. Investigations like this are hugely time consuming and labor intensive.
4:00 update: The patient may have been on a bus while symptoms were present, but the plane ride was several days previous. Patients are infectious while showing symptoms, so this may have posed a transmission risk to fellow passengers.
3:30 pm update: Looks like some of my guesses were correct. The patient is recently returned from Saudi Arabia, where he or she was a healthcare worker. Details from @Crof's blog. Also, the patient was not symptomatic during his or her travels, so it's probable that he or she was not infectious.
May 12: The CDC is announcing a second imported case of MERS in the Florida. The same above applies - unless the virus has mutated (there is no evidence to suggest this is the case), the pandemic potential is very, very low.
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