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1st American MERS patient released from hospital

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    FILE - This file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. Health officials on Friday, May 2, 2014 said the deadly virus from the Middle East has turned up for the first time in the U.S. (AP Photo/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases via The Canadian Press, File)

MUNSTER, Ind. » The first American diagnosed with a mysterious virus from the Middle East was released Friday from a northwestern Indiana hospital after health officials determined the patient "poses no threat to the community."

The patient is considered fully recovered and has been cleared by health officials to travel, if necessary, after testing negative for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, the Indiana State Department of Health said in a statement.

Community Hospital chief medical information officer Dr. Alan Kumar said hospital officials completed their discharge plans for the patient with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana health officials.

"The patient has tested negative for MERS, is no longer symptomatic and poses no threat to the community," Kumar said in the statement.

MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that also includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The virus appears to be unusually lethal — by some estimates, it has killed nearly a third of the people it sickened. That’s a far higher percentage than seasonal flu or other routine infections. But it is not as contagious as flu, measles or other diseases. There is no vaccine or cure, and there’s no specific treatment except to relieve symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the patient is an American man. He flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to the United States on April 24, with a stop in London. He landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and took a bus to Indiana, health officials said.

He went to the Munster hospital’s emergency room April 28 with a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Health officials said in Friday’s statement that multiple tests done at different times by the Indiana State Laboratory and the CDC "were negative for the presence of ongoing MERS infection in the patient."

That statement said no additional cases of MERS have been identified.

Though the virus is not highly contagious, the hospital has isolated at home 50 employees identified as having come in contact with the man before he was diagnosed. Friday’s statement said those staffers remain off duty and in temporary home isolation "and are being closely monitored for symptoms."

Those workers will not be allowed to return to work at the hospital until after the MERS "incubation period and confirmed negative laboratory results," the statement said.

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