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.”


Plans afoot to expand teaching of Chinese in Saudi Arabia

Updated 4 min 1 sec ago
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Plans afoot to expand teaching of Chinese in Saudi Arabia

  • Move to set up language learning in various stages of education in Saudi Arabia
RIYADH: The Ministry of Education launched the “Teaching Chinese Language in Education” workshop at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh on Saturday.
It was attended by the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom, officials from the Chinese Embassy, presidents of Saudi universities and education officials in the Kingdom.
Saudi Education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh said that the inclusion of the Chinese language in the various stages of education in the Kingdom stemmed from the desire to diversify the language tools in education, based on the strategic and economic importance of the Chinese language now and in the future.
He also stressed the importance of having a clear plan to qualify a number of teachers in intensive programs for up to a year to teach Chinese for the target stages, which could include selected schools from the secondary level in different regions in the first three years.
“There is a plan for numerical expansion, based on the requirements and expansion of the intermediate educational stage,” he said. “This expansion should be accompanied by training a number of teachers in programs developed in cooperation with the Chinese side for a year and with the department of external education to qualify teachers to teach Chinese.”
King Saud University reviewed the experience of teaching the Chinese language in the workshop, indicating that it started to introduce Chinese in 2010, and has graduated 35 students so far. They are currently working in the ministries of foreign affairs, media and a number of military sectors. They were used in translation programs, accompanying Chinese delegations, and during the pilgrimage seasons.
“When we say China or the Chinese economy is expected to be the primary economy (in the world) in eight years, this means establishing a strong relationship with this economy based on the common interests of the two countries,” Al-Asheikh said.
He said that the overall strategic goal of teaching Chinese was to make it the third language parallel to English and with the same level of horizontal and vertical spread in the two education systems.
Al-Asheikh expressed his optimism about the strategic direction of increasing cooperation between the Kingdom and China as great economies and civilizations.