Latest on MERS: Health warning signs go up at LAX and other U.S. airports

Health warnings for travelers alerting them to the potentially deadly disease MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, are being posted at airport security checkpoints in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego and 16 other airports nationwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports two confirmed cases of MERS in the U.S., one in Indiana on May 2 and another in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday. The two cases are unrelated, the CDC says in a statement, though all cases of the virus have been traced back to the Middle East.  

The risk of getting MERS is low, and the CDC is not advising travelers to change their plans. Newly installed airport signs warn those heading to the Arabian Peninsula to do what you would do to prevent any type of virus: “Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, avoid close contact with sick people.”

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The airport signs also advise travelers to look for telltale signs of the disease, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and to see a doctor if they get sick within 14 days of traveling to the area.

In terms of which countries pose a risk, there have been confirmed cases in Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Yemen. The agency also recommends precautions for those visiting neighboring nations such as Israel, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The warnings will be posted at all New York area airports as well as Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Houston; Dallas-Fort Worth; Atlanta; San Francisco; Seattle; Miami; Orlando, Fla.; Denver; Boston; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Detroit; Philadelphia; Charlotte, N.C.; and Baltimore.

The MERS virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. So far, the CDC reports, there have been 538 confirmed cases in 14 countries. Experts aren’t sure how the virus spreads, and there’s no vaccine or treatment.

CDC information about MERS:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of these people died.

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So far, all the cases have been linked to countries in the Arabian Peninsula. This virus has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, there is no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings.

On May 2, 2014, the first U.S. case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler from Saudi Arabia to the U.S. The traveler is considered to be fully recovered and has been released from the hospital. Public health officials have contacted healthcare workers, family members, and travelers who had close contact with the patient. At this time, none of these contacts has had evidence of being infected with MERS-CoV.

On May 11, 2014, a second U.S. imported case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler who also came to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. This patient is currently hospitalized and doing well. People who had close contact with this patient are being contacted. The two U.S. cases are not linked.

CDC and other public health partners continue to investigate and respond to the changing situation to prevent the spread of MERS-CoV in the U.S. These two cases of MERS imported to the U.S. represent a very low risk to the general public in this country.

CDC continues to closely monitor the MERS situation globally and work with partners to better understand the risks of this virus, including the source, how it spreads, and how infections might be prevented. CDC recognizes the potential for MERS-CoV to spread further and cause more cases globally and in the U.S. We have provided information for travelers and are working with health departments, hospitals, and other partners to prepare for this.