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2 Utahns tracked after coming in contact with deadly MERS virus

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SALT LAKE CITY — Health officials confirm they have been tracking two Utahns who came in contact with the deadly MERS virus as they traveled.

The two Utahns live in Davis County, said Salt Lake County Health Director Gary Edwards, and they traveled on the same flights as a patient with Middle East Respiratory Virus (MERS) coming back from Saudi Arabia. They didn't find out until after their flight was over that their health could be compromised, he added.

“There have been three cases in the United States," Edwards said. "Two of those individuals flew; had multiple legs coming from Saudi Arabia coming back to the United States. There have been a few individuals who were on those flights.”

The first two cases in the U.S. were brought back by health care workers who were in Saudi Arabia. The first case of MERS in the U.S. was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 2, 2014, the CDC website said. The third person to get MERS, in the middle of May, came in contact with one of the original MERS patients.

Salt Lake and Davis County health officials were asked by the CDC to investigate them as they try to track how MERS operates. The two people in Utah have not shown any symptoms, which means they don't have the virus, Edwards said.

“What we learned from these few examples is that it apparently does not spread easily person to person," he said. "There has to be much closer contact, such as health care, or family members who are providing care.”

There is no cure for MERS and it is not known how long the threat will last. It first showed up in Saudi Arabia in 2012, the CDC reported. Symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath.

The virus kills about a third of those it infects.

Contributing: Tracie Snowder

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