Florida MERS patient sat in busy ER for hours

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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Wed May 14, 2014 12:01am EDT

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Florida MERS patient sat in busy ER for hours
Health officials from left, Dr. Ken Michaels, Medical Director for Occupational Health at Orlando Health, Dr. Antonio Crespo, MD, the Chief Quality officer at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital and Dr. Kevin Sherin, MD, the health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County conduct a news conference to provide an update on the first MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome case in Fla. at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo)
Dr. Antonio Crespo, MD, the Chief Quality officer at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, answers questions during a news conference to provide an update on the first MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome case in Fla., Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. Fifteen hospital workers at Dr. Phillip Hospital and another five employees at Orlando Regional Medical Center were being monitored at home for fever, chills and muscle aches, said Crespo. So far, none of them have tested positive for MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. (AP Photo)
An Indian worker wears a mouth and nose mask as he touches a camel at his Saudi employer's farm on May 12, 2014 outside Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens and foreign workers to wear masks and gloves when dealing with camels to avoid spreading the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus as health experts said the animal was the likely source of the disease. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Saudis wear mouth and nose masks as they watch camels at their farm on May 12, 2014 outside Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens and foreign workers to wear masks and gloves when dealing with camels to avoid spreading the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus as health experts said the animal was the likely source of the disease. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Asian man wears a mouth and nose mask as he walks in a street of the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on April 27, 2014. The MERS death toll in Saudi Arabia neared 100 this weekend as the authorities scrambled to reassure an increasingly edgy population in the country worst-hit by the infectious coronavirus. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A thermal imaging meter, to test people for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), is seen outside of the room where defense ministers of the the Gulf Cooperation Council are meeting on May 14, 2014 at the Conference Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The World Health Organization held a meeting in Geneva to decide whether the rising number of MERS cases, mostly in Saudi Arabia, constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) - The second U.S. patient to be diagnosed with the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) spent at least four hours in the public waiting room of a busy Florida emergency department before he was seen by a doctor, a hospital official said.

Almost eight more hours passed before staff at Orlando's Dr. P. Phillips Hospital determined the patient had traveled from Saudi Arabia, where he worked at a hospital, began to suspect his exposure to MERS and had him moved to an isolation room, the hospital's chief quality control officer said.

The official, Dr. Antonio Crespo, said that as of Tuesday, he had changed procedures in the emergency department of Dr. P. Phillips Hospital so that any patient who comes in with flu-like symptoms will be asked whether they traveled to Saudi Arabia or other countries experiencing MERS outbreaks.

"That is one of the learning lessons of this experience. Yes, we could have asked this sooner. I think we have created more awareness," Crespo told Reuters in an interview.

The extended window of time may have exposed hospital staff and other patients to the virus, which is responsible for a worsening outbreak in Saudi Arabia and is estimated to kill about a third of infected patients.

Florida officials said on Tuesday two healthcare workers who were in contact with the patient in the ER late last week had since developed flu-like symptoms and were being tested for MERS. Results are expected on Wednesday.

The possibility that the illness, which has no known treatment, was spreading raised new concerns about the ability of global health officials to contain it.

While the Orlando patient waited to be admitted, he was treated in a single room in the emergency department where healthcare workers wore gloves and gowns due to his diarrhea, but did not wear goggles and face masks appropriate for protecting them from the virus, Crespo said.

Florida officials said they were monitoring the health of 20 healthcare workers who had been in contact with the patient, including a doctor who had already left for Canada. They also were trying to track down nearly 100 people who may have overlapped with the patient at two Orlando medical facilities he visited.

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