WHO Saudi MERS report notes exposures in health settings

A World Health Organization (WHO) update today on 10 recent Saudi MERS-CoV cases sheds little light on how people are exposed to the virus, but half of the cases involved possible exposure in hospital settings, a problem that has contributed to past disease spikes.

Also today, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported two more Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infections, one in a healthcare worker (HCW), as well as a death in a previously confirmed case.

And health officials in the Philippines shared some details about three Filipino health workers who were recently infected with the virus while working in Saudi Arabia.

Two new Saudi MERS cases

The MOH detailed MERS-CoV cases today in Riyadh and Jeddah.

The case in Riyadh involves a 48-year-old female expatriate HCW. She is listed in stable condition and had contact with a MERS-CoV patient in a healthcare setting, the MOH said. She had no recent exposure to animals or MERS in the community, nor did she have other medical conditions.

The patient in Jeddah is a 59-year-old Saudi woman who is not an HCW. She is hospitalized in critical condition, had preexisting disease, and had recent, unspecified animal contact. She had no previous contact with MERS-CoV patients.

The MOH also reported that a 57-year-old Saudi man in Riyadh has succumbed to the disease. He was not an HCW but had preexisting disease. The agency also reported that a 53-year-old Saudi man in Riyadh has recovered from his infection. He likewise is not an HCW and had preexisting disease.

Today's totals bring Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV count to 938 cases and 403 deaths. The MOH also noted that 508 patients have recovered and 27 are still receiving care.

The country has already had 18 MERS cases in March, 14 of which have been in Riyadh, and has reported 8 MERS-related deaths. This follows a surge in February that involved 75 MERS-CoV cases and 31 deaths.

WHO highlights healthcare exposures

The 10 cases in today's WHO update were reported to the agency between Feb 23 and Feb 25. Illness onsets range from Feb 12 to Feb 22, and seven of the patients are hospitalized in critical condition while three are listed as stable. Five of the patients are from Riyadh.

Seven of the patients are men, and all are adults, ranging from 24 to 84 years old. Five of the individuals have underlying medical conditions.

Three of the patients—two in Riyadh and one in Afif—were infected with MERS-CoV while they were in the hospital for unrelated conditions, and all were in facilities where other cases had recently been detected. However, two were said not to have been treated by the same HCWs, while the third had no contact with a case previously reported by the WHO.

Two of the 10 patients reported today are HCWs, a 50-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman. Both had treated a lab-confirmed MERS-CoV patient while working in Riyadh.

One of the patients, a 45-year-old foreign man, had contact with a previously confirmed patient, a 47-year-old foreign man whose illness was described in the WHO's last update on Feb 23. That contact, however, was not described as healthcare-related. Both patients are from Najran.

Health officials are still investigating how four other patients were exposed to the virus.

The WHO also said Saudi Arabia notified it of two deaths in previously reported MERS-CoV case-patients. It said the latest notifications from Saudi Arabia lift the global total from the disease to 1,040 lab-confirmed cases and at least 383 deaths. Most of the cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia.

The agency urged countries to continue surveillance for severe respiratory infections and to be alert for any unusual patterns. The WHO reminded health facilities that infection prevention and control measures are critical for battling the disease and that, because the early signs of MERS-CoV infection are nonspecific, health workers should take standard precautions with all patients, regardless of their diagnoses.

Filipino HCWs among recent cases

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced today that three Filipino health workers in Saudi Arabia have contracted MERS-CoV infections, according to a report from ABS-CBN, one of the country's major television networks.

It said all are women who worked in different hospitals in Saudi Arabia. Two are nurses and one is a respiratory technician.

The DFA didn't share any other details except for that one of the women is 56 years old and that the workers were given immediate medical attention and are in isolation. It also noted that since 2013 when MERS-CoV first emerged, nine Filipinos have died from infections, eight from Saudi Arabia and one from the United Arab Emirates.

Editorial Director Jim Wappes contributed to this story.

See also:

Mar 6 WHO MERS-CoV update

Mar 6 MOH statement

Mar 6 ABS-CBN report

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