6 New Cases of MERS Virus in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia reported Sunday six new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome, the latest sign of a spreading viral disease ahead of an annual religious pilgrimage that brings millions of visitors to the country.
The surging number of cases—the largest since the peak of the last MERS outbreak in the summer of 2014—comes as Saudi Arabia prepares to welcome next month more than two million pilgrims to the Muslim holy city of Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
In addition, the threat of the viral disease spreading could increase as more than 5 million Saudi students resume school on Sunday after summer vacation.
“The Ministry of Health is working at full capacity to contain the current outbreak of the virus,” health minister Khalid al-Falih said Saturday on Twitter.
Abdulaziz bin Said, undersecretary for public health, said Sunday that infection control teams are now providing around the clock support to emergency wards at Riyadh hospitals.
MERS is a virus that can cause breathing problems, fever, pneumonia and kidney failure. It belongs to the same family of viruses as the common cold and SARS, which spread in Hong Kong and southern China in 2002 and 2003.
The kingdom is considering a ban on the practice of sacrificing camels and sharing their meat with the poor during hajj, a measure meant to stop the spread of the virus, which is believed to have begun by passing from infected camels to humans.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized in the past for what international health organizations called a slow and inadequate response leading to multiple outbreaks.
Since it first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012, the virus has infected 1,147 people, killing 487, according to the Saudi health ministry.
The focal point of the current outbreak, which began earlier this month, remains King Abdulaziz Medical City of the National Guard in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The hospital’s emergency ward and outpatient clinics remained closed Sunday following the infection of a number of its workers and patients.
It has taken measures to limit the spread of the virus, postponing non emergency surgeries and slashing visitation hours. Hospital staff were told by the health ministry to delay any travel out of Riyadh for the next two weeks as a precautionary measure.
An expert from the World Health Organization is scheduled to arrive in the kingdom this week to meet with Saudi officials and assess the latest spike in infections.
Saudi health officials have said that the frequency of reported cases declined in 2014, after new measures were taken to fight the spread of MERS, including stricter enforcement of standard infection control procedures. Yet four health ministers have been replaced since 2012.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that it is monitoring the situation, but that it hasn’t placed any travel or trade restrictions on Saudi Arabia because of the disease.
South Korea was the latest country to report a major outbreak of MERS. Korean authorities declared its outbreak finished in July, after 186 people were infected, 36 killed and more than 16,000 quarantined.
Courtesy of wsj.com