Saudi Arabia assigns more labs to coronavirus probe

May 16, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – Saudi Arabia has dedicated more labs to investigating novel coronavirus (nCoV) cases in the country, while the condition of an nCoV patient in France has worsened, according to news media reports today.

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health said it has assigned nine more labs to work on the nCoV investigation, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. It didn't give the total number of labs involved in the effort or give any other details.

Saudi Arabia is has had 30 of the 40 nCoV cases that have been reported so far. The number includes 21 cases with 9 deaths in a hospital-centered cluster that emerged this month in the country's Eastern province. Two of the 21 cases are in healthcare workers who had contact with nCoV patients, Saudi officials revealed yesterday. No new cases were reported today.

Meanwhile, the condition of one of two nCoV patients in France deteriorated yesterday, with the result that he had to be put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO, a heart-lung machine), according to a machine-translated report from Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The story described the patient as a 50-year-old man who is at Lille University Hospital, which fits with the pattern of mostly older male patients among nCoV cases so far. He contracted the virus after sharing a room in another hospital (in Valenciennes) with France's first nCoV patient, a 65-year-old man, from April 27 to 29. The older man is also at Lille University Hospital and has been on ECMO since May 8, the story said.

In other developments, Canada released a risk assessment for the novel virus today, saying the public health risk for Canada is considered low for now.

"There have been a limited number of cases reported to date, and while there is evidence of limited capacity for human-to-human transmission, zoonotic transmission is still presumed to be the source of infection," the statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said.

The agency said it is not recommending any travel restrictions, but it encourages travelers to take routine precautions.

The virus has not yet been found in an animal, leaving its source a mystery. As noted in the PHAC statement, lab studies have suggested that it could infect a wide range of wild and domesticated species, such as pigs, monkeys, and bats.

See also:

May 16 AP story

May 16 Canadian risk assessment

May 16 AFP story (machine translated)

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