MERS reaches Iran; cases slowing in Saudi Arabia

Citadel in Kerman province, Iran
Citadel in Kerman province, Iran

Ancient citadel in Bam, Iran, in Kerman province, in which the country's first MERS case-patients live., mathess / iStockphoto

Iran yesterday reported its first two cases of MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus), according to media reports, while Saudi Arabia has now gone 2 days without reporting any new cases, after announcing eight on May 24 and 25.

In addition, the media reported one new case in Jordan on May 25, for a total of 11 cases reported since May 23.

The cases in Iran involved two sisters who were among four suspected case-patients in one family in the southeastern province of Kerman, according to a Reuters story today. Word of the cases first surfaced yesterday in computer translations of an Iranian health ministry announcement.

The cases were announced by Mohammad Mahdi Gouya, director-general of communicable diseases at the Iranian Health Ministry's Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention, the Reuters story said.

"One of the sisters is in critical condition and the other is currently receiving treatment under special circumstances," Gouya said in a statement on the ministry's Web site.

The story gave no other details about the two patients or their possible exposures to the virus. Gouya was quoted as saying that Iran had sent medical teams to Saudi Arabia, "where they studied MERS cases among Iranian Hajj pilgrims." But no MERS cases have previously been reported in Iran, nor were any confirmed cases reported among pilgrims who attended the 2013 Hajj last October.

Iran becomes the 20th country, and the ninth in the Middle East, to identify MERS cases. Other Middle Eastern countries with cases are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Saudi updates

In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced both yesterday and today that it had no new MERS-CoV cases to report, although today's statement said one previously reported case-patient, an 81-year-old man, died yesterday. The lack of new cases 2 days in a row suggests a slowing of the rapid accumulation of cases over the past 2 months.

Before that, MOH reported four cases on May 24 and four on May 25. Among them were four in Gonfodah (also spelled Qunfudah) in the country's southwest, 2 in Riyadh, 1 in Medina, and 1 Jeddah.

Five patients had no symptoms, while two were in stable condition and one was in a hospital intensive care unit, the MOH said. The five asymptomatic patients were all under 35 years old, and all had previous contact with other MERS case-patients, the ministry said.

The four cases in Gonfodah were preceded there by a case in a 65-year-old man that was announced by the MOH on May 22. It said he had no symptoms but visited a hospital on May 18 for other reasons and that he had had contact with a MERS case-patient.

The May 24 MOH announcement noted the death of a previously reported patient, a 40-year-old woman in Riyadh. The latest cases raised Saudi Arabia's official MERS count to 562 cases, with 180 deaths.

Jordanian case

The new MERS case in Jordan was reported in computer-translated media statements with few details. A translation posted May 25 on Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease blog, said the Jordanian health ministry reported that the patient was a male who was being treated in an intensive care unit.

The patient was hospitalized a week after returning from a trip to "the Holy Land," the report said, apparently referring to Saudi Arabia. It said the case increases Jordan's MERS tally to 10.

In other developments, all the health workers who had contact with the second confirmed MERS case-patient in the United States were cleared to return to work, according to a May 25 Associated Press (AP) story.

Orlando Health spokeswoman Katie Dagenais said 16 workers were cleared May 24 at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando, and seven workers were cleared yesterday at Orlando Regional Medical Center, the AP reported.

The man who had the second US MERS case is a 44-year-old health professional who works at a hospital in Jeddah. He was hospitalized at Dr. P. Phillips on May 9 and was released 10 days later. He had been mildly ill when he flew to the United States on May 1.

See also:

May 27 Reuters story on Iran cases

Saudi MOH page with case count

May 25 Saudi MOH statement on four cases

May 24 Saudi MOH statement on four cases

May 22 Saudi MOH statement noting case in Gonfodah

May 25 Avian Flu Diary post on Jordan case

May 25 AP story on Florida health workers

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