First Coronavirus Case Detected In Oman, Four More In Saudi Arabia
November 1, 2013

First Coronavirus Case Detected In Oman, Four More In Saudi Arabia

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

As the annual hajj pilgrimage has come and gone in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health continues to monitor the situation for any signs of an increase in the number of cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

On October 29 and again on Oct. 31, 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported of additional laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, as submitted by the Ministry of Health (MoH). As well, a case has been reported in Oman, the first laboratory-confirmed case from that Middle Eastern country.

The MoH informed the WHO on Oct. 29 of an additional case of MERS in a 23-year-old man from Qatar who has been identified as a close contact of a previously lab-confirmed case as part of an ongoing epidemiological investigation. He is a worker at an animal barn owned by the person who was previously confirmed as having MERS. The new patient is reportedly in good condition with only mild symptoms.

The MoH informed the WHO on Oct. 31 of three additional lab-confirmed cases of MERS, all from Saudi Arabia. These include people who had underlying medical conditions and were between the ages of 49 and 83. All three patients reportedly had no contact with animals prior to onset of the illness, while one was reported to have been in contact with a previously lab-confirmed case.

Also on Oct. 31, the WHO received a report of a 68-year-old man from the Al Dahkliya region in Oman who became ill on Oct. 26 and was hospitalized on Oct. 28. Preliminary results revealed that he did not recently travel outside the country. Investigations are continuing to determine what exposures might be responsible for his infection.

Globally, from September 2012 to date, the WHO has been informed of a total of 149 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection from MERS-CoV. 63 deaths have been reported with this illness, which includes an additional fatality listed in the latest WHO report.

Oman has become the fifth Middle Eastern country to be hit by the MERS coronavirus. The Omani man, according to an AFP report, has diabetes and is in stable condition in a hospital in Nazwa, 93 miles west of the capital city, Muscat.

While epidemiological investigations have yet to confirm the cause of transmission, Oman’s health affairs undersecretary, Mohamed bin Saif al Hosni, said the man was in contact with someone from outside the country who may have had the virus, according to a report in the Oman Daily Observer.

France, which saw its first confirmed case of MERS-CoV back in May, had recentlyreported another suspected case. However, testing by the Pasteur Institute in Paris ruled out the suspected case this week, according to the country’s health ministry. A report yesterday said the illness was in a 43-year-old man who had returned home from Saudi Arabia, but it was not clear if he had attended the Hajj earlier this month.

Exclusion of the latest suspected case means France’s MERS count remains at two. Along with France, several other countries outside the Middle East have also seen a number of cases of MERS, including Italy, Germany, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. However, none of these regions have seen many cases, as the bulk of infections have remained in the Middle East.

Experts are still struggling to understand MERS, where it originates, how it transmits and what can be done to stop it. The disease, which has been labeled deadlier but less transmissible between humans than its cousin illness SARS, has been difficult to reel in. In contrast to the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which killed about 9 percent of the nearly 8,300 people who became ill, MERS has a mortality rate of about 40 percent.

Like SARS, MERS appears to be a lung infection, with most patients suffering from a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. But where MERS differs, is that it can cause rapid kidney failure.

Health officials from around the world have been hunting for the source of MERS-CoV, with a few possible leads on the table.

Initially, experts believed the virus came from bats, but the new virus seemed somewhat different from the one seen in bats. Others theorized that goats or sheep could be to blame, but subsequent analysis of camels in Oman, Egypt and the Canary Islands to discovery that the dromedaries had antibodies to the MERS or a closely related virus. So far, no research has discovered the actual virus in camels.

A subsequent study of thousands of bats and bat species throughout the Middle East and neighboring countries did find a 100-percent genetic match to the MERS-CoV. However, it is not yet clear if bats or other yet-to-be-tested animals are the source of the human illnesses.