Unpredictable MERS ‘deadlier than SARS’

Updated 18 August 2013
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Unpredictable MERS ‘deadlier than SARS’

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus is more deadly, unpredictable and has significant differences from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, according to Saudi and UK scientists studying the virus.
“MERS coronavirus appears to be more deadly, with 60 percent of patients with co-existing chronic illnesses dying, compared with the one-percent toll of SARS,” said Ziad Memish, Saudi deputy minister for public health.
He said that the MERS infecting humans is unpredictable because the source of the virus is not yet known. While sharing clinical similarities with the SARS-like fever, cough and incubation period, he said there are also some important differences such as the rapid progression to respiratory failure of up to five days. The progression occurs earlier than in SARS.
In a Lancet Infectious Diseases publication, Saudi and UK scientists also noted a trend of older patients with more men and patients with underlying medical conditions succumbing to the disease.
The symptoms of patients suffering from MERS coronavirus are fever (98 percent), chills (87 percent), cough (83 percent), shortness of breath (72 percent), and muscle pain (32 percent). A quarter of patients also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting.
However, in SARS, the majority of cases (96 percent) occurred in people with underlying chronic medical conditions including diabetes (68 percent), high blood pressure (34 percent), chronic heart disease (28 percent), and chronic renal disease (49 percent).
“The recent identification of milder or asymptomatic cases of MERS in health care workers, children, and family members of contacts of MERS cases indicates that we are only reporting the tip of the iceberg of severe cases and there is a spectrum of milder clinical disease which requires urgent definition,” said Ali Zumla, a professor from University College London.
“At the moment, the virus is still confined (to the Middle East),” said Dr. Christian Drosten of the University of Bonn Medical Centre in Germany. “But this is a coronavirus and we know coronaviruses are able to cause pandemics.”
Drosten, however, said that could be bad news. “That could mean the virus is more virulent and that (doctors) have a smaller window of opportunity to intervene and treat patients.”
Detecting MERS fast could be a problem since quick diagnostic tests aren’t available.
“Women in the (Middle East) region tend to have their mouths covered with at least two layers of cloth,” he said. “If the coronavirus is being spread by droplets, (the veils) should give women some protection.”


Saudi startups win big with business incubator Oqal

The latest initiatives come amid efforts to increase the contribution of SMEs to the gross domestic product. (Shutterstock)
Updated 9 min 55 sec ago
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Saudi startups win big with business incubator Oqal

  • Currently, financial institutions only provide a 5 percent rate of funding to startups
  • SMEs in the Kingdom continue to bear the brunt of complex administrative procedures and funding challenges

RIYADH: An up-and-coming Saudi business incubator recently launched a new incentive program aimed at keeping the young and budding entrepreneurs it supports and advises focused “on the prize.”
Oqal, which merges the Arabic word “aqel” (mind) with the Arabic word “amwal” (financial resources), helps youth with business plans and capital make the most of their resources by creating economically viable startups.
The jury on the panel of this latest competition, which was for the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, narrowed down 10 emerging projects to three finalists. Five Saudi judges with experience in the business sector were tasked with selecting the finalists.
Educa, an education-related initiative, won SR50,000 ($13,329) and a car. Qosoor, which rents out wedding and events venues, also won SR50,000. The third-place prize went to a real estate valuation company, which won SR25,000. The winners will also have their businesses accredited.
Since its inception in 2011, Oqal, a not-for-profit online platform, has helped foster the talent and resources of more than 50 entrepreneurs whose companies are now thriving in the Saudi market.
Oqal is working with Monsha’at, Arabic for startups, a government initiative attempting to empower small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to contribute more significantly to the country’s national economy.
“These prizes are a motivating tool and big form of exposure for these businesses, which will need to keep up momentum on this huge initial boost,” said Yaser Al-Ahmed, one of the judges on the panel.
“These businesses will continue to be guided by Monsha’at, which recently announced that the financial pledges made by young owners will be matched by other high-net-worth individuals in order to encourage future investments in startups.”
The latest initiatives come amid efforts to increase the contribution of SMEs to the gross domestic product (GDP). SMEs only account for 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP, a weak figure compared with first world countries, some of which enjoy an up to 70 percent SME contribution rate.
SMEs in the Kingdom continue to bear the brunt of complex administrative procedures and funding challenges. Currently, financial institutions only provide a 5 percent rate of funding to startups. Monsha’at is trying to increase funding to 20 percent by 2030.
The authority responsible for SME performance is reviewing cumbersome regulations and increasing access to finance methods, as well as introducing more business incubators and helping local businesses export their products.