• Reuters

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A health care worker who had traveled to Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the first U.S. case of Middle East respiratory virus (MERS), an often fatal illness, raising new concerns about the rapid spread of such diseases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a conference call that the first U.S. case of MERS is “of great concern because of its virulence.” MERS proves fatal in about one-third of infections.

She said the case represents “a very low risk to the broader general public,” although MERS has been shown to spread to health care workers and there are no known treatments for it.

Schuchat said the patient is in stable condition and there are no other suspected cases of MERS at the current time.

In Britain, public health officials said they are contacting any passengers who had been sitting near the patient, who changed planes at Heathrow.

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