Turkey has first MERS case; Saudi Arabia acts to stop cluster

Turkey has confirmed its first MERS-CoV case, involving a man who visited Saudi Arabia, according to media reports, and Saudi Arabia announced steps today to stop an ongoing cluster of cases in Taif, where three more have been reported in the past 3 days.

The three latest MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) cases in Taif, near Mecca, are among five cases reported by the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) over the weekend and today. One of the new cases was fatal.

Turkey's first case

The MERS case in Turkey involved a man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia and was sick on his return, on Oct 6, according to Today's Zaman, an English language newspaper in Turkey. He was hospitalized, and he died on Oct 11, said the story, which quoted the Turkish health ministry.

The story did not say whether he had gone to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, which ended Oct 7, nor did it give any other details about the man.

Turkey's health ministry advised the man's contacts, including other passengers on his flight from Saudi Arabia, to see their doctors for a health screening, the story noted.

An Oct 16 report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) listed 22 countries that have reported MERS cases, making Turkey the 23rd. All cases have been linked directly or indirectly to countries in the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia.

Concern about Taif cases

Meanwhile, the Saudi MOH announced two new MERS cases today and three over the weekend, with three of the five in Taif.

In an unusual statement today, the ministry said nine cases have been confirmed in Taif over the past 2 weeks and warned that more may be on the way.

"The concerning rate of infection in Taif suggests we may see additional cases of MERS-CoV there in the coming days," Acting Health Minister Adel M. Fakeih said in the statement. "This is a reminder of the dangers to the public of unprotected contact with camels and the need for healthcare workers to follow proper infection-control procedures.”

Fakeih conducted an "urgent inspection" of two hospitals in Taif, King Faisal and King Abdulaziz, the statement said.

It said some of the recent cases probably were due to exposure to camels, while others have been secondary cases among patients and staff members in local hospitals.

The MOH announced a number of steps to try to arrest the Taif cluster, starting with tracing those who came into contact with the patients. In other steps, the ministry said:

  • The dialysis unit at King Abdulaziz Hospital is being disinfected, and additional dialysis units are being moved to King Faisal to allow the diversion of some patients from King Abdulaziz.
  • King Abdulaziz Hospital will transfer MERS patients to King Faisal, the designated MERS hospital for Taif.
  • Experts are assessing and monitoring infection control measures at the two hospitals, including fit testing for the "face masks" that staff members wear when caring for MERS patients.
  • The isolation ward for MERS patients at King Faisal is being split into two parts, one for suspected cases and one for confirmed cases.
  • Dialysis units in Taif are adding an extra shift with the aim of preventing infection by reducing the number of patients being treated in each session.

The MOH also said it is expanding its collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in Taif, because some of the recent MERS cases are believed to be related to exposure to camels.

Latest cases

The five latest cases included three in males and two in women, with an age range of 17 to 66. None of the patients reported animal exposures before they got sick.

One case was reported Oct 18, in a 66-year-old Saudi man in Taif who is not a healthcare worker and has a preexisting disease. He was in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU).

Two cases were reported yesterday. One involved a 55-year-old Saudi woman in Al Jawf who died of the illness, while the other is in a 65-year-old man in Taif who is in an ICU. Neither patient is a health worker, and both had preexisting conditions.

Two more cases were reported today, in a 17-year-old boy in Riyadh and a 35-year-old expatriate woman in Taif. The boy has a preexisting illness and is in an ICU, the MOH said. The woman is a health worker who has no preexisting condition and is hospitalized.

In addition to the new cases, the MOH on Oct 18 announced the death of a previously reported case-patient, a 69-year-old Saudi man in Taif.

With the latest cases, the MOH's MERS count has reached 770 cases with 328 deaths. Twelve cases remain active, and 430 patients have recovered.

See also:

Oct 19 Today's Zaman story

Oct 20 MOH statement on Taif cluster

Oct 20 MOH statement on two new cases

Oct 19 MOH statement on two new cases

Oct 18 MOH statement

Oct 16 ECDC risk assessment on MERS

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