Latest Updates on MERS Coronavirus Cases in Saudi Arabia: World Health Organization Reports 3 New Infections

2024-05-11 09:36:28

The World Health Organization revealed this week that Saudi health authorities recorded 3 new infections with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus from April 10 to 17, including one death.

The ministry explained, according to: Data provided by the United NationsThe three cases are men from the capital, Riyadh, aged 56 to 60, and they all suffer from chronic health conditions, indicating that they do not work in the medical sector.

The ministry also reported that there is a possible epidemiological link between the three cases, as exposure to the virus is believed to have occurred in a health facility in the capital.

These cases bring to 4 the total number of infections reported in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2024, including two deaths. The World Health Organization, however, confirmed that these developments do not change its general assessment of the severity of the virus, which remains at a “moderate” level regionally and internationally.

What is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is a viral respiratory illness caused by the Corona virus and was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The coronavirus that causes the syndrome is a zoonotic virus, meaning it is transmitted between animals and humans. Its association with human infection in camels has been proven in several countries in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Epidemiologist Dr. Ahmed Al-Tassa confirms that Middle East Syndrome “is one of the types of coronaviruses and its origin, like all other species of coronaviruses, comes from bats, but it has been transmitted to camels before being transmitted to humans.

Al-Tassa explains in a statement to the Al-Hurra website that the latest wave of this syndrome “has been very serious, more so than the Covid-19 we have witnessed” and is causing high mortality rates.

Worldwide, 2,204 cases and 860 deaths have been reported, according to the organization. The vast majority, more than 80 percent, were recorded in Saudi Arabia.

The mortality rate from infected cases reaches 35 percent of total infections reported to Global Health.

Coronavirus responsible for Middle East respiratory syndrome

Typical symptoms of this disease include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome do not always develop this health problem. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported.

Human-to-human transmission remains possible and occurs primarily between close contacts and in healthcare settings. Outside of these health centers, human-to-human transmission was limited, according to the United Nations.

Regarding the mode of transmission of this syndrome, the medical expert affirms that it is similar to what is known about the Corona virus, but that due to its great severity it represents a “serious problem for medical teams “.

He added that if a large number of medical teams were infected and mortality rates were high, it would cause great panic among these teams, especially if they were not equipped as planned, leading to an accumulation of cases of patients.

Al-Tassa does not expect the current spread to be similar to previous waves, attributing this to health systems and teams, particularly in Gulf countries, who now have expertise and experience to deal with the issue of epidemics and viruses.

However, he says the problem lies with any virus wave linked to the variants, because we don’t know if it will be deadlier or not.

The health expert adds that Global Health “expects that a new global disease or virus will arise in some way,” and the question is no longer whether it will occur or not, but rather its timing and the question “when?”

The same speaker says that the questions raised are whether the upcoming viruses, whether Middle East Syndrome or others, will have a higher severity than Corona, because in this scenario we We will also talk about high death rates.

Details of recent cases

The Saudi Ministry of Health reported 3 cases of illness in Riyadh between April 10 and 17, 2024, including one death, to the World Health Organization.

All cases were linked to a single health facility, and two of them were identified through contact tracing of the index case.

The latter was a 56-year-old Saudi teacher living in Riyadh. He developed symptoms on March 29 and his infection was confirmed on April 6.

This patient, who died on April 7, suffered from chronic illnesses and had no clear history of exposure to typical MERS risk factors. Contact tracing identified two secondary cases.

The second case was recorded in a 60-year-old retired Saudi man, who was transferred to the same hospital and shared a room with the index case.

He developed a fever on April 6 and his infection was confirmed on April 8. He also suffers from heart disease and is a smoker. It is suspected that he contracted the virus while receiving medical treatment in hospital.

Health alert in Saudi Arabia due to Corona virus illness

Health agencies are racing against time to determine the origins of the MERS outbreak in Saudi Arabia, following the emergence of three confirmed cases of infection in people who had no direct contact with camels, which are the main known source of this virus, according to the British newspaper “The Telegraph”.

The third case belongs to a 60-year-old retired soldier, who also had contact with the reference case while they were together in the hospital emergency room. The patient developed shortness of breath on April 10 and his infection was confirmed on April 15. He suffers from chronic kidney failure, tumors and liver disease.

As of April 21, the second and third cases remain in intensive care and on ventilators. Although the investigation is still ongoing to determine the source of infection, no history of exposure to camels has been determined.

14 health workers are also being monitored and no additional cases have been identified so far, the organization reports.

Professor of Clinical Pharmacotherapy at the University of Petra, Dr Dirar Hassan Balawi, says the transmission of Middle East Syndrome “is not rapid and its ability to mutate is slow”, unlike the Covid-19 virus which caused the Corona pandemic.

Balawi adds that the cases appearing in Saudi Arabia remain very few, because over a period of about 7 or 8 months, there have been about 4 cases of infection, which means that the virus is under control, which indicates that expectations anticipated the emergence of these new cases. case.

Although several MERS treatments and vaccines are in clinical development, unlike Covid-19, none have undergone clinical trials and been approved by regulators.

In this regard, Balawi said in a statement to the Al-Hurra website that to date there is no vaccine or treatment available for this disease, indicating that there have been researches and studies, but that due to the small number of cases recorded, they were not carried out. been completed.

It should be noted that in the recent cases, the three infected people did not have direct contact with camels, which are the main known source of this virus.

In this regard, Al-Tassa says it is too early to know how the virus is spreading, noting that in previous cases the spread was linked to camels, after the virus was transmitted to them through camels. a bat, and that the role of the animal was the transmitter to humans.

He adds that the virus could have infected an infected predatory animal and been eaten by a human, for example, without proper cooking or close handling, noting that “studies and research continue to discover its source and control it.” , but it is only a matter of time as each case is followed to find the zero point from which the disease started.

For his part, Dr. Balawi affirms that transmission does not always occur through direct contact with camels, because infection can result from contact with other infected people who have contracted the virus of animal origin and thus the infection has spread, emphasizing that this “created an alert in Saudi Arabia to track down contact persons in order to identify all “cases”.

Regarding his reading of the future of this viral syndrome, the same speaker confirms that, so far, “it appears that this disease cannot mutate in the same way that Covid mutates and spreads, which caused the pandemic world, as the rate and method of its change over the past 12 years has been slow and minor.

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