A senior official from the Ministry of Health refuted rumors on Wednesday that new cases of coronavirus (MERS-CoV) had been identified in the Al-Kharj district, around 60 km from Riyadh.
Abdullah Al-Aseeri, undersecretary in the Ministry of Health, told Arab News that social media outlets were spreading misleading rumors.
“There is no new case of the virus in the Al-Kharj district,” he said. “The situation is under control Kingdom-wide and the ministry has done its part to ensure the threat is contained,” he said.
There have been 163 cases of coronavirus since September of 2012, 64 of which were fatal. He also said the ministry has been implementing a system to monitor the mutation of the disease both within and outside the Kingdom.
“The scheme has operated with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global organizations that are involved in the fight against the disease,” he said. “There are no other cases of medical staff infected with the virus at the King Abdulaziz Hospital in Jeddah.”
The assurance came after a Saudi male nurse at the hospital, identified by local media on Sunday as 27-year-old Bandar bin Salim Al-Kuthairy, contracted the disease.
Al-Kuthairy had reportedly gone to Madinah to get married and returned to work two days later with symptoms of the illness.
“All of the hospital’s staff members were tested for the virus and they proved negative,” Al-Aseeri said.
He also said extensive research and testing in regional laboratories have uncovered many cases of infection.
Around 15,000 tests have been conducted in regional laboratories in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah. He said hospital laboratories have also uncovered many cases at the National Guard Hospital and Saudi Aramco’s medical facilities.
Al-Aseeri said studies, which were conducted after the discovery of the first case in 2012, showed that researchers in the United States and the Kingdom had found the virus in camels several years ago.
Researchers from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, King Saud University and other agencies issued a joint statement that around 74 percent of camels in the Kingdom have MERS antibodies, which means they were infected with the virus at some stage in their lives.
“The virus was found in respiratory systems, which defines the transfer path between animals and humans,” he said.
Al-Aseeri said studies have also found the virus in bats. A group of researchers from the Health Ministry and Colombia University has isolated the new coronavirus in bats, which causes acute pneumonia in humans.
“One sample from an insect-eating bat showed a 100-percent genetic match with the new coronavirus in humans,” he said. “The study showed the existence of other viruses from the corona family in 28 percent of the samples.”
Researchers said that bats could be the primary incubator, while other domestic animals, especially camels, could be the secondary incubator in the transfer of the disease to humans.
Al-Aseeri said the ministry uses regional laboratories to ensure accurate diagnosis.