Saudi Arabia reports 2 MERS cases, strategy changes

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health (MOH) today reported 2 new MERS-CoV cases in Riyadh and 2 deaths, bringing the country's total to 839 cases and 363 deaths.

The newest case-patients include a 76-year-old Saudi man, now deceased. He had an underlying medical condition, and had no animal exposure or contact with MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) cases in the community. He was not a healthcare worker, but the MOH is investigating his history of contact with MERS cases in clinical settings.

The other newly reported patient is a 38-year-old Saudi man who is hospitalized in stable condition. He is not a healthcare worker and has preexisting disease. He had no community contact with MERS patients, but his exposure to MERS cases in clinical settings and contact with animals are under investigation.

The MOH also reported the MERS-related death of a 67-year-old Saudi man from Taif today. The man was not a healthcare worker and had an underlying medical condition.

Five cases of MERS-CoV are still active in Saudi Arabia, the MOH said in today's update, and 471 people have recovered from the disease.

MOH and CDC collaboration

In related news, the MOH has recently recruited a team from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assist with the country's MERS-CoV and Ebola response programs, Arab News reported today.

The MOH and CDC will collaborate with the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) at Riyadh's King Saud University to train Saudi health professionals in epidemiologic and infection control practices. The partnership has already begun training Saudi hospital staff in outbreak response and has provided support and expertise for ongoing MERS-CoV research.

More than 100 Saudis have graduated from the FETP program since its inception in 1989, and the new CDC partnership is expected to expand the country's public health and healthcare capacity to respond to emerging infections, the story said.

Saudi suspension of MERS contracts

In addition, the MOH announced that, owing to corruption concerns, it has suspended 38 contracts related to MERS prevention and communication efforts, according to a report today in Arabian Business.

Saudi authorities suspended contracts worth $266 million (US), although $176 million of that money has already been spent.

Contracts affected by the alleged corruption include those charged with managing the MOH's Twitter account, initiating a 7-week media campaign about MERS-CoV, supervising healthcare worker training and infection control practices, conducting air transport, and managing residential leases. Contracts related to laboratory testing, training medical staff, and creating a future strategy for MERS response were also suspended, Arabian Business said.

Saudi authorities said that companies whose contracts were suspended were not doing the work they had agreed to do or had not shown results.

European MERS risk assessment

Also, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released an updated risk assessment of the MERS-CoV situation in the Middle East on Jan 15, citing little change in overall risk of transmission and infection.

The ECDC notes that while the source and mode of MERS remains unconfirmed, there appears to be a low risk of camel-to-human transmission. The ECDC also found that the risk of MERS infection shows no link to religious pilgrimages or mass gatherings in Saudi Arabia.

The ECDC has reported 972 global cases of MERS-CoV and 394 deaths. In its Jan 20 update, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 955 laboratory-confirmed cases and 351 deaths.

See also:

Jan 21 MOH update

Jan 21 Arab News story

Jan 21 Arabian Business story

Jan 15 ECDC report

Jan 20 WHO update

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