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Cancer Answers is hosted by Dr. Anees Chagpar, Associate Professor of Surgical Oncology and Director of The Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Dr. Francine Foss, Professor of Medical Oncology. The show features a guest cancer specialist who will share the most recent advances in cancer therapy and respond to listeners questions. Myths, facts and advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment are discussed, with a different focus eachweek. Nationally acclaimed specialists in various types of cancer research, diagnosis, and treatment discuss common misconceptions about the disease and respond to questions from the community.Listeners can submit questions to be answered on the program at canceranswers@yale.edu or by leaving a message at (888) 234-4YCC. As a resource, archived programs from 2006 through the present are available in both audio and written versions on the Yale Cancer Center website.

MERS Virus Comes To U.S., But Risk To Public Is Deemed Low

A Muslim pilgrim wears a mask in Mecca to protect against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in October 2013.
Fayez Nureldine
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AFP/Getty Images
A Muslim pilgrim wears a mask in Mecca to protect against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in October 2013.

On April 24, an American health care worker based in Saudi Arabia flew from Riyadh to London to Chicago, then took a bus to Indiana.

Three days later, the man began experiencing shortness of breath and coughing. He also ran a fever. He visited the emergency room on April 28 and was tested by the Indiana public health lab. Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that he is the first MERS patient in the United States.

MERS, the acronym for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The virus very likely spreads from camels to humans and can cause pneumonia-like symptoms. The CDC says there have been 401 confirmed cases in 13 countries, with 244 in Saudi Arabia. Ninety-three people have died. Many patients worked directly with camels or had consumed camel meat or milk prior to contracting MERS.

The disease can pass from human to human, but there is "limited spread" in that way, according to the CDC, typically to a health care giver or a household member who has close contact. MERS is not believed to spread readily in community settings.

The CDC does not know how the patient in the U.S. contracted the disease.

Airline passengers traveling from the United Arab Emirates pass through a scanner designed to detect people with a fever in Manila, the Philippines, in April.
Ritchie B. Tongo / EPA/Landov
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EPA/Landov
Airline passengers traveling from the United Arab Emirates pass through a scanner designed to detect people with a fever in Manila, the Philippines, in April.

The virus began making headlines this month, with approximately 50 new cases reported in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks and new cases in the United Arab Emirates.

The CDC does expect more cases will surface in the U.S., but only among the medical staff who have cared for this U.S. patient and possibly the patient's family members.

"We've anticipated MERS reaching the U.S., and we've prepared for that and are taking swift action," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "We're doing everything possible with hospital, local and state health officials to find people who may have had contact with this person so they can be evaluated as appropriate."

CDC characterized the risk to Americans as "low" but is seeking out passengers who flew with the man or traveled on the bus with him.

At this time CDC does not recommend any change in travel plans for the general public. But it does suggest that anyone who has visited countries in or near the Arabian peninsula and who develops a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days should see a doctor.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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