In what may be another hospital-related MERS-CoV cluster, Saudi Arabia today reported three cases from the holy city of Medina, two of them in healthcare workers, all of whom had contact with a confirmed or suspected case.
The flare-up of cases in Medina comes as hundreds of thousands of travelers from all over the world are streaming into Saudi Arabia to make their Hajj pilgrimages, which constitute one of the five pillars of Islam.
For the first time since Aug 2, no new cases were reported in Riyadh, which is experiencing a large hospital outbreak at King Abdulaziz Medical City.
With the three new cases today, five MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) illnesses have now been reported in Medina since Sep 7. The first involved an 80-year-old Saudi woman who had contact with an earlier case. The Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) didn't give any other details about her exposure.
Prior to this outbreak, the most recent case reported in Medina occurred in February.
Possible new hospital cluster
Yesterday the MOH reported a case in Medina involving a 33-year-old male foreign healthcare worker who had contact with a previous MERS case.
In its announcement today, the MOH confirmed the infections of two more foreign healthcare workers in Medina, a 35-year-old woman and a 34-year-old man. Both are hospitalized in critical condition. The third new case involves an 82-year-old Saudi man who is listed in critical condition.
The MOH said in a footnote about the cases that two of the three patients reported today have been transferred to King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh.
Though most of Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV cases since July have come from Riyadh, other parts of the country have reported isolated cases and recent clusters. For example, sporadic illnesses have been reported recently in Al-Kharj, and the city of Najran has reported a cluster of cases, some of which involved contact with earlier cases.
The uptick in virus activity in Saudi Arabia is occurring alongside a smaller but growing hospital outbreak in Amman, Jordan. The spurt of MERS-CoV cases in both countries has raised concerns about the threat to Hajj travelers, and the possibility that they could carry the virus back to their home countries.
Since the virus was first detected in people in 2012, no Hajj-related cases have been reported, but previous years did not see the number of MERS cases being reported in recent weeks.
As of today, 62 people are still being treated for MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, and another 13 are in home isolation.
The newly reported cases push Saudi Arabia's total from the disease to 1,231 cases, with the number of deaths remaining at 521.
Sep 11 Saudi MOH statement