U.S. Case of Deadly MERS Sparks Call for Congressional Hearings

May 06, 2014 9:52 am ET

May 6 (Bloomberg) -- The first U.S. case of a potentially lethal virus from the Arabian peninsula sparked a call from Democrats for congressional hearings on the threat it may pose to the country.

Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and colleagues sent a letter to Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee requesting a hearing on “federal initiatives to protect Americans from global health threats,” citing the case of a man in Indiana. The patient was diagnosed with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, on April 28 after returning April 24 from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

“This is the latest example of how, in our increasingly global community, infectious diseases can spread to the United States,” Waxman and his colleagues wrote.

The coronavirus, first identified in Saudi Arabia two years ago, has caused 401 cases of illness and 93 deaths in 12 countries as of yesterday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Indiana patient, whom authorities have declined to identify, is in isolation at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana and was reported yesterday to be improving.

No additional U.S. cases had been identified as of yesterday, and workers at the hospital who had contact with the patient before he was isolated were taken off duty and told to isolate themselves at home during the virus’ incubation period, thought to be about five days. A spokesman for the CDC, Benjamin Haynes, said in an e-mail this morning that he didn’t have an update on the patient’s status or on any new U.S. cases of the disease. The agency is determining who else may have come into contact with the patient.

Little is known about the origin of MERS or how it is spread. Patients suffer respiratory distress, coughing and fever. There is no vaccine and no cure.

A spokeswoman for Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Noelle Clemente, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.