WHO, Saudi reports raise MERS-CoV count

The World Health Organization (WHO) today reported a MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) case in a 14-year-old Saudi girl, while Saudi Arabia announced another death in a previously reported case.

The WHO said the 14-year-old, who has underlying medical conditions, became ill with a MERS-CoV infection on May 29 and is in stable condition. She is from the country's Eastern region, but not from Al-Ahsa, the site of a recent hospital-based cluster that included 22 cases and 10 deaths.

From the WHO's short description, the case appears to be the same one announced by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health (MOH) on Jun 2. The extremely brief MOH announcement said the patient is a female who lives in the Eastern region and has chronic cardiac disease. It described her condition as "reassuring."

Today's Saudi MOH announcement came in a translated statement posted by ProMED, the disease tracking service of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. It said only that the MOH "has announced the death of one patient among the previously infected cases by MERS-CoV in Al-Ahsa Governorate." It didn't list the patient's age, gender, location, or other details. The MOH had not posted an English translation of the announcement as of this writing.

The WHO statement listed the total MERS-CoV tally at 54 cases and 30 deaths. Today's Saudi announcement would increase the death toll to 31.

But the true numbers of MERS-CoV cases and deaths are somewhat unclear, since another case and three other deaths reported by the Saudi MOH in recent days have not yet been mentioned by the WHO. Yesterday the MOH reported a case in an 83-year-old man in Al-Ahsa, and on Jun 1 the ministry reported the deaths of three patients whose cases had been announced earlier.

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on its MERS-CoV page, lists a global count of 55 cases—one more than the WHO number—and 30 deaths. Both the CDC and the Saudi MOH put Saudi Arabia's numbers at 40 cases and 24 deaths.

In other developments, Public Health England (formerly the UK Health Protection Agency) announced yesterday it will hold a conference on MERS-CoV on Jul 9, with UK and international experts presenting their findings on the virus and disease.

"The conference brings together local, national, and international perspectives on this disease, to consider its potential future course and to agree research priorities," the announcement said.

Today the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) released a statement on MERS-CoV, saying the risk to Canadians is low because the virus does not appear to spread easily from person to person. But it advised people to lower their risk of infection by taking usual precautions such as avoiding close contact with people who have signs of respiratory illness and practicing good respiratory etiquette.

The PHAC is not advising any travel restrictions for now, but it has a notice that advises some precautions for travelers. Among other things, the notice says the risk may be higher for travelers who have chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Travelers are advised to seek medical attention immediately if they experience influenza-like symptoms within 10 days after returning from abroad.

The agency noted that its National Microbiology Laboratory is working with a sample of the virus to develop diagnostic tests, including an antibody test to determine if people have been exposed to the virus. The lab is also testing the effectiveness of antivirals and developing and testing vaccines.

See also:

Jun 5 WHO statement

Jun 5 ProMED post about death in Saudi Arabia

CDC MERS-CoV page with case count

Saudi MOH page listing MERS-CoV case count

Jun 4 Public Health England notice

Jun 5 PHAC notice

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