Three more women have been recently diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) infection in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organization said last Thursday. While two of the cases have been reported in healthcare workers who had been previously exposed to the virus, the third case is a woman who had no contact with sufferers or animals.
According to official data by the WHO, from September 2012 to date, the total number of MERS laboratory-confirmed cases has reached 94, including 46 deaths, with the majority of the patients diagnosed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Among the latest cases is a 67-year-old woman from the capital Riyadh who became ill on July 25 and is now hospitalized. As with most of the MERS sufferers, she has underlying medical conditions, but has no exposure according to doctors to either a patient diagnosed with the virus or an animal that could contract the deadly infection. The other two cases, says WHO, are in female health care workers from Riyadh and Assir provinces who had both direct contacts with MERS-diagnosed patients.
Since its first detection last year, the virus has caused the death of approximately half of the infected people. This statistics makes it far deadlier than the virus blamed for the common flu and even than the SARS virus which in 2003 infected more than 8000 people around the world. Just like its cousin SARS, the MERS coronavirus is believed by experts to have jumped from animals to humans, but still doctors wonder how exactly it is transmitted. Besides the flu-like symptoms, the WHO and other experts remind that MERS is also characterized by kidney failure and other atypical signs such as diarrhea, especially in patients with underlying diseases.
Although the virus has showed an extremely high fatality rate of around 50 percent and more, it is not considered a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. In addition, there are no travel or trade restrictions, with the exception of Saudi Arabia which has placed some limitations entry visas for people expected to flock to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina during the annual hajj pilgrimage in October.