Saudi Arabi Removes Health Minister As Country Continues To Battle Deadly Virus
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The World Health Organization issued a report Wednesday morning stating that an additional nine people have been confirmed to have the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus. This followed an announcement by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday that 12 additional cases have been confirmed.
In light of the continued outbreak, which to date has sickened more than 250 people and killed 93 since September 2012, the Saudi government removed its health minister, Abdullah al-Rabeeah, from office and is expected to replace him with the country’s Labor Minister Adel Faqih, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
Before being removed from his post, al-Rabeeah said in a statement on April 20 that he expected more cases to come out over the next three weeks.
The health ministry also sent out text messages to the country’s 30 million residents alerting them of the dangers of MERS. Although the disease still does not spread easily among humans, it remains a dangerous virus. The SPA did note that to date no cases of the virus have been observed in relation to crowds, schools or stadiums. As well, pilgrims who converged on the desert kingdom last October during the Hajj were unaffected by the virus.
Faqih recently posted a photo of himself wearing a blue mask and plastic gown while visiting a MERS patient in the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah. He took to the social media sites Facebook and Twitter to make his pledge that he will keep the public informed of any developments relating to the virus and said that health and safety are the top priorities of King Abdullah.
The ministry also released a video aiming to raise awareness of the virus and is being aired across the country on local TV stations. The video advises viewers to take precautions, which include wearing masks in public.
When the first cases of this respiratory virus were reported more than 18 months ago, some made the connection to bats as being a likely cause of the virus making its way into humans. This connection came from the fact that bats have been known to carry coronavirus and there were similarities between the human illness and that seen in bats.
It was also reported that MERS was similar to the 2003 outbreak of SARS, which killed more than 900 people and sickened thousands.
It was not until last August that another connection was made between MERS and bats after a study found a 100 percent genetic match in a bat sample. However, it was still too early to tell if the MERS in humans came from the disease in bats.
Shortly before that news surfaced, a separate study made an even bigger connection to another animal – one that was widely-relied upon in the Middle East.
According to researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), MERS antibodies were found in a large subset of dromedary camels from the region.
This research paved the way to more studies into camels as a possible suspect. And indeed, further investigations found that camels had been carrying the MERS virus for at least 20 years. And subsequently, more camels had been discovered with the virus, as well as humans who had been in close contact with these even-toed ungulates.
A newly published report in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases has made the case that dromedary camels in widely separated parts of Africa have also been exposed to the MERS Coronavirus or a closely related virus well before the first human cases were detected.
The researchers, which hailed from the Netherlands and Africa, reported that the discovery of MERS-like antibodies in camels from Nigeria, Tunisia and Ethiopia expand the geographic range of the virus beyond the Middle East and raises the possibility that there could be unrecognized human cases of MERS in Africa, according to CIDRAP.
It was also reported that a MERS virus collected from a camel in Qatar was able to infect and grow in human cells in a lab culture, adding further support for the view that camels are the source of human MERS infections.
Also, the WHO said last month that MERS is very likely spreading to humans from camels, but it still remains unclear what the exact transmission pathway is.
Whatever the pathway is, it seems likely that MERS is not going away anytime soon.