RIYADH: Following a long lull, the Ministry of Health on Monday has reported two deaths due to Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), bringing the total number of deaths to 707 since June 2014.
During the past seven days, there were three new cases, and six more cases are undergoing treatment at various government hospitals.
The deceased were two Saudi women, aged 75 and 77, from Onaizah and Buraidah respectively, in Al-Qassim region.
According to a report from the Ministry of Health, the two patients were suffering from pre-existing illnesses.
Since June 2014, there have been 1,746 patients reported with MERS, with 707 cases fully recovered and sent home from hospitals.
According to the World Health Association (WHO), critical next steps to accelerate the response to the global public health threat posed by MERS have been agreed on by representatives from the ministries of health and agriculture of affected and at-risk countries, and experts. The virus, which circulates in dromedary camels without causing visible disease, can be fatal to humans.
At a meeting hosted by WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in Geneva in September, more than 130 experts from 33 countries, organizations and research institutions met to share what is known about the virus, identify priority research needs, improve cross collaboration between animal and human health sectors, and agree on a plan to address crucial gaps.
“MERS is not only a regional threat. While the majority of human cases have been reported from the Middle East, the outbreak in the Republic of Korea in 2015 showed MERS’ global reach and capacity to have significant public health and economic consequences,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, MERS-CoV technical lead in WHO’s health emergencies program.
“We are at the stage where we have to confront the challenges in our ability to detect and respond to MERS outbreaks and improve our knowledge about this virus through collaborative research,” she said.
WHO said more than 80 percent of MERS cases have been reported by Saudi Arabia. While many of these people were infected in health care facilities, with improved data collection on MERS patients since 2015, a significant proportion of recently reported human cases are believed to have been exposed through direct or indirect contact with infected camels. Frequent international travel has allowed sporadic cases to be exported to every region of the world by individuals who are unknowingly infected before they travel.
MERS-CoV is one of the high-threat pathogens included in WHO’s Research and Development Blue Print which provides a road map for research and development of diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic products for prevention, early detection and response to these threats caused by 11 high-prioritized pathogens.