As about 2 million Muslims from across the globe gather in Saudi Arabia to launch the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the host country over the past 3 days reported three more MERS-CoV cases in as many cities.
And neighboring Jordan reported two more Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) cases yesterday, raising its number of recent cases to 13.
Medical preparations for Hajj
In a statement today from its Eastern Mediterranean regional office, World Health Organization (WHO) officials acknowledged the threat from MERS-CoV and other health issues in such an immense mass gathering, thought to be the largest in the world.
Earlier this month, the WHO's emergency committee had raised concerns about this year's event, given the uptick in cases in Saudi Arabia and the recent event in South Korea, which showed how a single imported case can spark a large outbreak. The WHO committee pointed out that some Hajj travelers will be returning to countries that have weak surveillance and health systems.
Of three Hajj observances that have taken place since the virus was first detected in humans in 2012, no illnesses have been detected in pilgrims. H.E. Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia's health minister, said in the statement, "We are working to keep it that way."
The WHO said it has been collaborating with Saudi Arabia's government over the past 6 months to address health issues that might arise in connection with the event, which is expects to draw about 2 million people from 184 different countries. According to Saudi Arabia's health ministry, 25,000 additional health workers have been deployed and eight hospitals used only during the Hajj have been opened. The facilities have surgical wards and intensive care units.
Jeddah, Riyadh, Najran cases
In statements over the past 3 days, the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) said the latest confirmed cases are in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Najran. The Riyadh case may be part of a large ongoing hospital-linked outbreak. Since Jul 21, 169 cases have now been reported in Riyadh, many of them associated with a large outbreak at King Abdulaziz Medical City.
The Jeddah case involves a 30-year-old Saudi woman who is hospitalized in stable condition. The MOH said in a Sep 19 announcement that she did not have contact with an earlier case.
Riyadh's latest MERS patient is a 48-year-old Saudi man who is listed in stable condition. An investigation found that he had contact with an earlier suspected or confirmed case, the MOH said yesterday.
In a notice today, the MOH said one more illness has been detected in Najran, a city in the far southern part of the country. The patient is a 90-year-old Saudi man hospitalized in critical condition who didn't have contact with an earlier case.
None of the newly reported patients is a healthcare worker.
Over the past 3 days the MOH also reported four deaths in earlier announced cases. All are middle aged or older adults who had pre-existing medical conditions. All are Saudi citizens, and none were healthcare workers. Three were from Riyadh and one was from Medina, where another cluster of hospital-linked cases was recently reported.
The MOH said 38 people are still being treated for their illnesses, a number that includes people who are in home isolation. Nine more people have recovered from MERS-CoV.
The developments lift Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV totals since the virus was first detected in 2012 to 1,246 cases and 532 deaths.
Few details about Jordan cases
Jordan's state news service yesterday, citing a health ministry source, reported two more MERS-CoV cases, according to a report in Arabic translated and posted by FluTrackers, an infectious disease news message board.
The announcement included few details, except for that one patient is a 29-year-old healthcare worker from Amman, where another cluster of hospital linked cases has recently been reported.
The index patient's illness was confirmed in late August. The man had recently traveled from Saudi Arabia. Including that infection, Jordan has reported a total of 13 recent MERS cases, 5 of them fatal.
Sep 21 WHO Eastern Mediterranean regional office statement
Sep 19 Saudi MOH statement
Sep 20 Saudi MOH statement
Sep 21 Saudi MOH statement
Sep 20 FluTrackers thread