– MERS infections pass 300 mark in Saudi Arabia (RT, April 26, 2014):
Saudi Arabian authorities have reported 14 more cases of the deadly MERS virus, bringing the total number of infected people to 313. The country has faced accusations of a lack of transparency as it struggles to control the virus’s spread.
The latest outbreak of the MERS virus has Saudi authorities concerned ahead of Ramadam, when millions of pilgrims will flock to the country. The Health Ministry has reported 14 new cases of the respiratory syndrome in the capital, Riyadh, in the last 24 hours. In total, 92 people have died of MERS in Saudi Arabia, according to official information from the Ministry of Health.
One of the latest to be infected was a 65-year-old Turkish pilgrim in Mecca, fueling fears that Ramadan will see the number of cases drastically increase.
Health authorities are currently investigating where the virus originates and how to stem the outbreak. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS) currently has no known cure and is considered to be more deadly than the SARS virus that killed over 800 people during the 2002-03 outbreak in China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for more investigation into the virus and suspects MERS may have mutated, making it more transmissible between humans. A spokesperson from the WHO said the organization was “concerned” about the increasing number of cases.
“This just highlights the need to learn more about the virus, about the transmission, and about the route of infection,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
Criticism has been aimed at the Saudi Health Ministry for its handling of the pandemic, amid fears of the virus spreading internationally. Saudi government officials have sought to dispel fears of a global outbreak and denied claims of a lack of transparency on a governmental level.
On Monday, the government removed Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah from his position without any official explanation. His replacement, Adel Fakieh, has pledged “transparency and to promptly provide the media and society with the information needed.” In addition, five leading, international vaccine makers have been drafted in by the Saudi government to aid in the development of a MERS vaccine.
A large proportion of those infected by the virus in Saudi Arabia are healthcare professionals, but Fakieh said he was pleased to announce that a number of patients with the virus were recovering, while critical cases were still receiving medical care.
– Egypt reports its first case of MERS virus (Los Angeles Times April 26, 2014):
The MERS patient had been living in Saudi Arabia, where the virus has killed more than 90 people, and was placed in quarantine in Cairo.
CAIRO — With the appearance of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in the Arab world’s most populous country, health officials face a tough new challenge in confronting the often lethal virus.
Egypt’s Ministry of Health said Saturday that the country’s first case had been discovered, identifying the patient as a 27-year-old Egyptian man who had been living and working in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. He was placed in quarantine at a Cairo hospital immediately upon his return.
The news came hours after Saudi Arabia, where the virus first appeared in 2012, announced five new MERS deaths. That brought the fatality toll in the kingdom to 92, with more than 300 cases diagnosed.
In addition, an Indonesian man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia died Friday after returning home. The virus has also been found elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, which has reported seven new laboratory-confirmed cases, the United Nations’ World Health Organization said Saturday.
MERS is a coronavirus similar to the one that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, which appeared in Asia more than a decade ago. But the new virus is deadlier than SARS, killing about one in three of those who fall ill. Its hallmarks are flu-like symptoms, including fever and coughing. Patients sometimes develop pneumonia.
No vaccine exists. The WHO has called for urgent research on the virus and its properties.
The spread of the disease to Egypt raises troubling health-policy questions. Even with a sophisticated medical system, Saudi Arabia has been struggling to halt the spread of the virus, whose transmission method is poorly understood. Last week, the kingdom’s minister of health was sacked after an increase in the number of cases.
Egypt, with its dilapidated public-health apparatus, ponderous bureaucracy and a less than transparent mode of governance, might have even more difficulty in containing the virus.
Even before Saturday’s announcement, health officials had said it was probable that MERS had spread to Egypt, because it had been found in a small sampling of camels.
Thus far, the MERS outbreak has not triggered travel restrictions to Saudi Arabia. Observant Muslims around the world journey as religious pilgrims to the kingdom’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The hajj falls this year in October.