Saudi Arabia confirms 3 MERS cases, 1 likely tied to janitor cluster

Saudi Arabia today reported three more MERS-CoV cases, one of which may well be linked to a cluster in foreign women who are roommates and working in the country as janitors, an event noted today in a World Health Organization (WHO) update.

Saudi health officials have acknowledged the cluster among 36 female janitors sharing a three-bedroom apartment east of Riyadh. They are foreigners working under contract for Princess Noura bint Abdurrahman University (PNU). The number of cases linked to the janitor roommate cluster is unclear, but so far eight cases that fit the profile have been reported from Saudi Arabia, and the WHO report today appears to describe the first four cases.

MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) is known to spread quickly in healthcare settings, as evidenced by recent large hospital outbreaks, but clusters in domestic settings appear to be more unusual, raising more questions about virus transmission.

Patients include health worker

Two of today's MERS cases are in Riyadh and one is in Hofuf, according to an update from the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH).

Both of the Riyadh cases involve expat women who are symptomatic and are hospitalized in stable condition. One is a 28-year-old who is listed as a secondary household contact and is likely linked to the janitor roommate cluster. The city's other patient is a 47-year-old healthcare worker who was exposed to the virus in a medical setting.

The Hofuf case involves a 75-year-old Saudi man who is hospitalized in stable condition. An investigation into the source of his illness found that he contracted the disease from a hospital patient, which hints at another possible hospital cluster. Hofuf has reported two other MERS cases in recent days.

The new cases lift Saudi Arabia's total to 1,265 cases, which includes 539 deaths. So far 711 people have recovered from their MERS-CoV infections, and 15 are still being treated.

WHO on cases at Riyadh compound

The WHO today shared more details about four MERS-CoV cases reported by Saudi Arabia from Oct 10 to Oct 13, all of which involve women living in the same compound in Riyadh. All are foreign women in their twenties, were symptomatic, and are hospitalized in stable condition.

The index patient, age 26, got sick on Oct 1 and was hospitalized on Oct 8. An investigation into how she was exposed to the virus is still under way.

A 27-year-old woman who started having symptoms the same day was hospitalized on Oct 10. The WHO said she is a household contact of the first patient.

A few days later two more women—both age 26—from the compound started having symptoms, one on Oct 7 and the other on Oct 10. The first is a household contact of the earlier two cases and the second lives in the same area as the other three cases, the WHO noted. It said tracing of household and healthcare contacts is ongoing for the four cases.

The WHO also said Saudi officials reported three more deaths in patients whose illnesses were announced in September.

Saudi Arabia's latest reports boost the global number of MERS-CoV cases reported to the WHO to 1,599, with at least 574 of them fatal.

See also:

Oct 22 Saudi MOH update

Oct 22 WHO statement

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