Thailand's health ministry yesterday confirmed a MERS-CoV infection in a man who had traveled from Oman, the second such case in the past 7 months, while Saudi Arabian health officials announced a pair of new cases, both in men who had direct contact with camels.
Though most MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) cases have been reported from Saudi Arabia, the dribble of exported cases is worrisome, given that unsuspected and undetected cases have the potential to trigger large outbreaks, as occurred in South Korea last summer.
Meanwhile, the cases in Saudi Arabia are the latest in a spate of camel-linked MERS illnesses in that country.
Case parallels earlier MERS illness
The latest case in Thailand involves a 71-year-old man who arrived in Bangkok for medical care on Jan 22, according to a statement yesterday from the World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEARO). He was admitted to a private hospital, where he tested positive for the virus.
The man was transferred to the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute. Tracing is under way for contacts the man had en route to Thailand and in Bangkok after he landed.
So far Thailand has quarantined 32 people, including the man's son, taxi drivers, hotel staff, and plane passengers, according to a report from Reuters today, which cited the director of the country's disease control department.
No details are yet available about the source of the Omani man's illness. Oman reported a MERS-CoV illness earlier this month in a 44-year-old man who was hospitalized on Jan 1. He had a history of contact with camels.
SEARO said Thailand's previous MERS case was reported in June 2015, also in an Omani man who had traveled to Bangkok for medical treatment.
According to earlier reports, the man arrived with his family, and, like the new case, had also been admitted to a private hospital where his infection was detected. Nearly 60 contacts were monitored for symptoms in connection to that case, but no other illnesses were detected.
Middle East residents often travel to Thailand for medical treatment.
New Saudi cases are asymptomatic
Saudi Arabia's latest cases involve two foreign men, ages 21 and 45, who had direct contact with camels, according to a statement yesterday from the country's Ministry of Health (MOH). They have asymptomatic infections, and their illnesses were detected in the wake of an investigation into MERS-CoV–positive camels that were found in a Jeddah camel market.
The men are in Al Khumra, in western Saudi Arabia not far from Jeddah. All six of Saudi Arabia's recent MERS-CoV cases involved men who had a connection to camels, including two reported on Jan 22. One was from Jeddah and the other from Almodhannab, in central Saudi Arabia.
Camels are thought to seed the infections in humans, sometimes resulting in asymptomatic infections. The virus doesn't spread easily among humans, except in healthcare settings, especially when there are gaps in infection control practices.
The new cases lift Saudi Arabia's overall MERS-CoV total to 1,286 cases, 551 of them fatal. Four people are still being treated for their illnesses.
Jan 24 WHO SEARO statement
Jan 25 Reuters story
Jan 24 Saudi MOH statement