Florida Hospital Workers Who Treated MERS Patient Fall Ill - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Florida Hospital Workers Who Treated MERS Patient Fall Ill

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(NBC News) -- Two of the health care workers who treated a MERS patient in Florida have come down with respiratory symptoms, and are being tested to see if they may have caught the mysterious virus from him, hospital officials say.

In at least one of the cases it’s almost certain not to be MERS — the staffer started showing symptoms just a day after treating the patient, who’s the second person to be diagnosed with MERS in the United States.

The incubation period for MERS — meaning the time it takes from contacting someone who’s infected to showing the first symptoms — is usually about five days.

“We want to be extra cautious,” said Dr. Antonio Crespo, infectious disease specialist and chief quality officer for the P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando.

Health care workers who treat patients with the virus are the most likely to become infected themselves, probably because of the close contact.

Crespo said 20 health care workers at two hospitals who may have been exposed to the virus are keeping themselves isolated and being regularly tested for the virus.

The MERS patient, a 44-year-old health care worker from Saudi Arabia, was visiting family in Orlando when he became ill enough to visit the emergency room on May 8. He’s been in the hospital since May 9 and has been kept isolated under special conditions ever since doctors suspected he might have MERS.

Middle East respiratory syndrome virus (MERS) is on the rise, especially in Saudi Arabia. It’s infected more than 500 people since it was first identified in 2012, spread to 16 countires, and killed about a quarter of its victims.

The first U.S. patient with MERS, also a health care worker who had been working in Saudi Arabia, has gone home after treatment in an Indiana hospital.

Doctors say the risk to the general public is very low.

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