May 30, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – Jordan's health ministry has sent 124 respiratory samples it collected from suspected Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) cases, none of which appear to be recent infections, to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for testing, the agency said today.
The latest development from Jordan was first reported in Arabic language media reports today, which were picked up and translated by the FluTrackers infectious disease message board. Later in the day the country's health ministry posted a statement about the samples and its response to the outbreak in Arabic on its Web page.
Jeanette St. Pierre, a spokeswoman for the CDC, confirmed that the CDC is testing the specimens from Jordan. She added that after testing the agency would turn the results over to Jordan's health ministry for further reporting.
In response to a question about animal samples from Saudi Arabia's investigation, St. Pierre said the CDC would not be testing those. On May 24 Saudi Arabia announced that it would send animal samples to the United States as part of its search for the source of the virus. So far it's unclear which lab in the United States would be testing the samples from bats and other animals such as camels, sheep, and cats.
The test results could shed light on a hospital respiratory illness cluster in April 2012. In November the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that MERS-CoV had been identified in 2 of 11 people, including 8 healthcare workers, who had severe respiratory infections in a hospital intensive care unit in Zarqa.
So far those two cases are the only ones in the outbreak reported from Jordan. The unofficial outbreak total now stands at 50 cases, 30 of them fatal.
Meanwhile, an Arabic media report today said a resident of the United Arab Emirates had been hospitalized in Morocco with a MERS-CoV infection. If confirmed, the case would be Morocco's first in the outbreak.
However, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO, said on Twitter today that tests on the rumored MERS-CoV patient in Morocco are negative so far.
In other developments, Saudi Arabian officials are investigating if six of the newest cases they reported are part of another hospital cluster, the Canadian Press reported today. Ziad Memish, MD, the country's health minister, said the cases have links to a hospital in the eastern part of the country, separate from a large hospital cluster in Al-Ahsa reported in early May.
Memish said that the latest patients are from the same town and the same hospital and that the investigation into their infections is under way. He added that human-to-human transmission could have played a role and that three of the patients have died. Two of the patients were hospital roommates, and Memish said investigators are working to sort out which health workers cared for the patients.
If confirmed, the cluster would be the eighth in the outbreak, according to a case list maintained by FluTrackers. Not all of the clusters have clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.
News editor Robert Roos contributed to this report.
May 30 Canadian Press story
FluTrackers case list
May 24 CIDRAP News story "Saudis to send samples to US in MERS-CoV probe"