Fatal MERS in Najran as study pans convalescent plasma

Drawing blood
Drawing blood

Tammy Bryngelson / iStock

Saudi officials confirmed a new fatal MERS-CoV case today, while a study gives a less-than-stellar review of using convalescent plasma for treatment.

After 6 days of no new cases, Saudi Arabia's Arabia Ministry of Health (MOH) reported that a man from Najran has died from MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus). The case is not related to an outbreak in recent weeks at the King Khalid University Hospital in Riyadh.

According to the MOH, a 49-year-old Saudi man with confirmed MERS passed away yesterday. His source of infection is listed as "primary," meaning not likely contracted from another person. He was not a healthcare worker.

On Jul 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) hinted that the recent cases in Najran may be part of a cluster. The last MERS-CoV patient in Najran was a 28-year-old male healthcare who developed symptoms on Jun 24, according to the WHO.

The new case brings Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV total to 1,439, 606 of them fatal, since 2012.

Study casts doubt on use of plasma

In other MERS news, a study today in Emerging Infectious Diseases explored the feasibility of using convalescent plasma from recovered MERS patients as passive immunotherapy and found the evidence to be lacking.

The plasma, which contained MERS-CoV–specific antibodies, could theoretically prevent death or worsening symptoms in patients. Researchers conducted a feasibility trial by obtaining plasma from three sources: 96 patients with suspected or laboratory-confirmed MERS-CoV infection, 230 healthcare workers, and 17 household contacts exposed to the virus, for a total of 443 samples. Using ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), the researchers found only 12 of the samples (2.7%) had adequately high antibody titers.

"Our results indicate that it would be possible to obtain quantities of convalescent plasma large enough to use in therapeutic studies or in a large number of MERS-CoV patients," the authors said. "However, large-scale screening would be required because of the limited availability of eligible potential donors with sufficient levels of antibody."

The authors suggest that their results could be explained by short-lasting antibody response to the virus, and they recommended further ELISA testing with serum samples obtained from recently diagnosed or very ill patients.

See also:

Jul 20 MOH report

Jul 6 WHO statement

Jul 20 Emerg Infect Dis study

This week's top reads