The Centers for Disease Control confirmed on Monday the discovery of a person with the MERS virus in Orlando, the second such case in the United States.
The patient is a healthcare worker who left the U.S. on May 1 and traveled through London, Boston and Atlanta before arriving in Orlando to visit family. The patient checked into a hospital a week later.
The CDC is getting help from 20 states to contact more than 500 plane passengers who may have come into contact with the patient. The agency did not release the flight numbers from the patient’s travels.
Warren McDougle, an epidemiologist with the Hillsborough County Health Department, called the decision to withhold the numbers wise. Releasing them could cause unnecessary panic.
"We don't believe that there is a high risk of transmission in that setting. If you were not around that person and did not have prolonged contact, you are not going to get it," said McDougle.
Hillsborough County health officials are already taking proactive steps to safeguard against the virus.
"We want to make sure doctors and health care workers are aware of the symptoms. It is often misdiagnosed as one of the flus. But people should not be alarmed. It is not easily spread, only through very close contact," said McDougle.
According to the World Health Organization there have been 538 confirmed cases of MERS since May 2012.
The virus has caused 145 deaths, and the majority of the cases have been in Saudi Arabia.
Officials are not discouraging travel to the Mideast at this point, but they have refreshed training for customs officers. They also encourage every citizen to take precautions.
There is no vaccine for MERS.
McDougle said there are three keys things you can do to protect yourself
"Washing your hands routinely, keeping your hands away from (your) face, nose and mouth and staying home when sick," he said.
Health officials also say that is it very important for sick patients to tell their doctors if they have been traveling out of the country or have been around people who have been out of the country. This way, doctors will know to test for certain communicable diseases.
The CDC also said it would not be surprised if there were more cases in the U.S. in the future.