Cluster of MERS illnesses reported in Saudi family

Saudi Arabia has reported a family cluster of seven MERS-CoV cases near the city of Najran in the southwest, with the initial case a man who had contact with camels and drank camel milk before he got sick.

Abdullah Assiri, MD, Saudi Arabia's assistant deputy minister for preventive health, said in a post to ProMED Mail that the first patient, age 45, got sick on May 17 and was hospitalized on May 20, where he is listed in critical condition with pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. ProMED Mail is the online reporting system of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) doesn't spread easily from person to person, and contact with camels is still the main source of transmission. However, MERS-CoV seems to spread more easily in hospital settings and clusters have been reported in household members who have close, unprotected contact with sick family members.

Assiri said given the index patient's contact with camels, the agriculture ministry has been notified and an investigation of camels is underway.

Six other family members hospitalized

Of 11 household contacts identified by investigators in the wake of the first case, 6 more are sick, with illness onset dates ranging from May 22 to May 27. All are men ages 19 to 52, and their hospital admission dates range from May 25 to May 28. The six men, all classified as having secondary community acquired exposure to the virus, have upper respiratory tract infections and are listed in stable condition.

Today's confirmation of Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV household cluster follows an Arabic-language media report flagged by ProMED Mail yesterday of a suspected family cluster reported from Najran. The report said the patients were transferred to Riyadh for hospitalization.

Cases follow lapse in case reporting

The pace of recent MERS-CoV cases over the last few weeks in Saudi Arabia has been unclear, because the health ministry is in the midst of a website reboot and hasn't posted any daily updates since about May 15. The country's last officially reported case was a 42-year-old woman from Tabuk.

The seven new cases push Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV total since 2012 to 1,846 cases, 745 of them fatal.

See also:

May 31 ProMED Mail post

May 30 ProMED Mail post

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