LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com)  —  KCAL9 News has learned that as many as 16 people in LA County are being monitored for possible exposure to MERS.

MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

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The California Department of Public Health says the 16 people were all passengers on a flight with a man who is now hospitalized with the disease in Florida.

The disease first appeared in the Middle East two years ago.

Worldwide, health officials say there have been about 650 reported cases with nearly one-third ending in death.

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Three people in the United States were recently diagnosed with MERS. Two of the three people reportedly traveled into this country from Saudi Arabia.

MERS, like the similar disease SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) causes fever, coughing and often-fatal pneumonia.

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