CHICAGO (WLS) --The Illinois resident who tested positive for MERS has tested negative for the ability to spread the virus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. He is believed to be the first known case of MERS transmission in the United States.
The health department said in a statement an initial test on him using oral and nasal swabs for active MERS infection came back negative on May 5. A second test positively showed MERS anti-bodies in his blood on May 16, meaning his body had fought off the infection.
The infection appears to have taken place in late April after the Illinois patient had two face-to-face business meetings with the Indiana patient who had the first known case of MERS in the U.S. The men are said to have been seated within six feet of each other, and shook hands.
IDPH Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck said Monday that this does not mean a simple handshake caused the transmission. Infection, he said, takes close contact, much more than just a casual passerby on the street.
"Perhaps the case sneezed into his hand and shook his hand," Dr. Hasbrouk said. "It's all about the load, the amount of inocular you take in. If you are in a closed system with someone and they're breathing and coughing and sneezing, your risk is going to be much higher."
Dr. Hasbrouk said the latest tests using oral and nasal swabs showed the Illinois man is not infectious.
"What this means is, although the resident was infected at one time, if he sneezes or coughs, the virus is not in his nose or mouth and therefore cannot be spread to others," he said. "The risk of MERS-CoV to the general public remains very low. We will continue to follow-up with this individual."
Since the discovery of the virus two years ago, all reported cases of MERS have been linked to countries near the Arabian Peninsula. As of May 16, there have been 572 confirmed cases of MERS in 15 countries. Most of those people developed severe acute respiratory illness, and more than 170 have died resulting in a mortality rate of about 30 percent.
Despite that, Dr. Hasbrouk says it is still easier to contract the flu or the common cold than it is to catch MERS.
"The fact of the matter is, if you're not traveling to the Middle East, if you're not having close and prolonged contact with somebody that is sick and diagnosed with this condition from the Middle East, you're probably going to be okay," he said.