MERS-CoV Continues to Smoulder in Saudi Arabia

The highly lethal coronavirus that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) continues to cause more deaths and illness in Saudi Arabia, where this virus was first detected in June last year. Although people have become infected in some other Middle Eastern countries, the majority of the infections have occurred in Saudi Arabia. Of the 80 cases and 44 deaths reported globally, at least 38 of the deaths and 65 of the cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia. The latest death was a 2 year old child, but most of the illness has occurred in elderly persons, often with pre-existing chronic disease. There has only been limited person-to-person spread between very close family contacts or in health care settings in Saudi Arabia.

The MERS virus has infected people in various places in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, Hafar Al Batin (Eastern Province) and Jeddah. Extensive investigations have failed to reveal the source of the virus.

Because there are concerns that the large number of people from all over the world who will make the Hajj pilgrimage in October may be exposed to this virus, The World Health Organisation (WHO) has convened an Expert Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to assess the risk and provide advice to the WHO. Nevertheless, so far, the WHO has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions, but says countries should monitor unusual respiratory infection patterns.