Starting around the first week of September we began to see a slow uptick in MERS cases reported out of Saudi Arabia, after a relatively quiet July and August. While most of the activity seemed centered around Taif, over the past couple of weeks case reports out of Riyadh have increased significantly.
Yesterday I mentioned the high degree of MERS `chatter’ on the Arabic language twitter feeds (search for كورونا aka `Coronavirus’), some of which included references to to Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Hospital in Riyadh.
In recent weeks the MOH has issued repeated statements (see Saudi MOH Announces New MERS Infection Control Procedures) due to the recent rise in MERS cases. Today, perhaps in response to the swell of speculation on social media , the Saudi MOH has released the following statement, indicating that some of cases in Riyadh can be traced back to exposure to a patient transferred from Taif.
06 November 2014
The Ministry of Health continues to manage MERS-CoV cases associated with the cluster in Taif, including five confirmed cases in Riyadh that originated with a patient who traveled there last month from Taif.
Four people, including patients and healthcare workers, tested positive for MERS-CoV after coming into contact with the index patient, who was admitted on October 18 to Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Hospital in Riyadh. Two of those patients later died. One recovered and was discharged, another remains hospitalized at a MERS-CoV Center of Excellence.
The Ministry’s Command & Control Center (CCC) identified the cases through its disease surveillance system and immediately dispatched a rapid-response team to assess the infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures at the hospital. In addition to conducting inspections, the Ministry identified patients and healthcare workers who had contact with the index patient for evaluation and follow up. More than 200 people, including family members and healthcare workers, were tested for the virus.
“MERS-CoV is active and we need to be on full alert,” Dr. Anees Sindi, Deputy Commander of the CCC, said. “Healthcare workers can reduce the risk of infection by continuing to take all the required precautions to protect themselves and their patients.”
The CCC is working with the World Health Organization to investigate the Taif cluster that is associated with these cases.
“Hemodialysis patients have a compromised immune system, putting them at higher risk of developing more complications from MERS-CoV than the average patient,” said Dr. Abdullah Assiri, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Preventive Health and liaison to the WHO. “Hospitals should be very vigilant in monitoring these patients and isolating them when they develop any symptoms that may be attributed to an infection.”
Drs. Sindi and Assiri visited the hospital immediately after the first case was diagnosed to provide support and guidance. CCC continues to monitor the situation along with public-health and infection-control experts from the Ministry. After the CCC submitted its recommendations, the regional directorate assigned a team to the hospital to ensure that infection control practices were being followed and the recommendations were being implemented.
In partnership with the WHO and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Ministry has instituted a number of reforms designed to protect patients and healthcare workers from MERS-CoV infection. This includes fit-testing healthcare workers for masks and providing ongoing education about the guidelines for identifying and treating patients suspected of having MERS-CoV.
Whenever possible, MERS-CoV patients are transferred to a specially designated facility. Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Hospital is the Center of Excellence for the Central Region.
The Ministry has developed new policies and trained thousands of healthcare workers on how to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infection. More than 30 research projects are underway in partnership with local and international scientists, including a critical case-control study designed to identify causes of MERS-CoV infection in Saudi Arabia.
There have been at least 796 confirmed cases of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia since June 2012. Please visit the CCC website, http://www.moh.gov.sa/en/CCC/Pages/default.aspx, for the latest statistics and to learn more about how to reduce the risk of infection.