As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expects more than 3 million pilgrims for the annual Hajj this October, the Ministry of Health is doubling its efforts to contain the spread of the deadly MERS coronavirus. The 100th case was announced in the country, after four new cases emerged on Wednesday, said health officials.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus appeared last fall and since then has been identified in at least 114 people, according to the World Health Organization. However, the number of overall cases is higher, as WHO hasn’t still updated their database. But the Saudi Ministry of Health reported yesterday that the total number of infections within the kingdom has reached 100. This includes 47 deaths, which means that almost half of the patients had fallen victims to the virus. The four new cases were found in Riyadh and Madinah in four men who had been all in contact with infected patients. The virus is considered less contagious than its “cousin” SARS which caused an outbreak in Asia in 2003, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing nearly 10 percent of them. However, MERS turned out to be highly deadly with fatality rate of over 50 percent. One of the major reasons for this is the fact that most of infections have been found in older people with multiple underlying health conditions.
People who contracted the virus or any other virus must postpone their Hajj visit this year. Health officials said that Saudi Arabia is now using up all local and international resources to stop the spread of the virus. MoH is already working with the WHO as well as health and infections experts from around the world in order to research, control and prevent the deadly infection. In June, this year, WHO released a guidance related to travel recommendations with advice to all health care practitioners, ministries of health, and travelers. This, together with the tightened measures promised by Saudi Arabia, should contain the virus. However, there is no vaccine or effective treatment to fight the disease and many questions about the origin of MERS are still unanswered. A recent study by the Ministry of Health and US scientists discovered a link between the virus and bats. Other researches show that the source of the infection very likely to be camels. Scientists admit that further study is needed to answer all questions.