WHO says first patient in MERS cluster had camel contact

In confirming the five latest Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) cases in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organization (WHO) today signaled that four of the cases were in a cluster in which the first patient had contact with camels.

Also today, it was revealed that Dutch and Qatari scientists have isolated and cultured a MERS-CoV from a camel in Qatar, and there are plans to conduct a serologic survey and a case-control study in that country in the effort to determine whether camels are passing the virus to humans.

Evidence of MERS-CoV has been found in camels in several countries, including Qatar, implicating the animals as a source of human infections, but the link has not been conclusively shown.

WHO updates

The WHO in its statement today recognized five cases, including one death, that were reported by Saudi Arabia on Mar 14. All the patients are from the Riyadh area.

The fatal case was in a 19-year-old man who had underlying medical conditions and a history of exposure to animals, including camels, the agency said. He became ill on Mar 1, was hospitalized on Mar 7, and died shortly afterward.

Three of the other case-patients had contact with the 19-year-old, according to the WHO. They were:

  • A 22-year-old woman who became mildly ill on Mar 10 and is in stable condition
  • An 18-year-old woman who became mildly ill on Mar 14 and has since recovered
  • A 53-year-old man who has no symptoms; the statement didn’t specify when he was tested

The WHO didn’t say whether these four patients are related, but an Associated Press report last week said the two young women were sisters of the 19-year-old.

The other case noted by the WHO is in an 83-year-old man from Riyadh who has underlying medical conditions and got sick on Feb 24. He was hospitalized on Mar 1 and is in critical condition. The agency said he has no history of contact with animals or other MERS patients.

Several previous family clusters of MERS cases have been reported since the virus was identified in 2012. The virus does not appear to spread very readily from person to person, but it can do so with close contact.

In related developments, yesterday the WHO acknowledged two earlier MERS cases reported by Saudi Arabia.

One case, announced by Saudi Arabia on Feb 26, involved a 56-year-old woman from the Riyadh region who has underlying medical conditions, the agency said. She became ill on Feb 12 and was hospitalized on Feb 22. She had no known contact with animals or other MERS patients. The statement did not describe her condition.

The other infection, which Saudi officials announced Mar 6, is in an 86-year-old Riyadh man who has no symptoms, the WHO said. He is reported to have had contact with a previous MERS patient.

With the announcements yesterday and today, the WHO’s count of confirmed MERS cases has reached 196, including 83 deaths.



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