MERS-CoV Update

Saudi Arabia sees surge
in new MERS cases

Expert mission visits Saudi, raises concern over gaps in knowledge There has been a surge in the number of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) cases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with more than 60 new cases reported in the first few weeks of February. Some of these are nosocomial infections, which is particularly worrying.

This escalation in MERS cases prompted a team of experts from the WHO, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and Institut Pasteur, France to visit the Kingdom to assess the current situation and to make recommendations for improving the surveillance, prevention and control of the virus. They came away saying although data collection and surveillance have improved globally in recent months, critical gaps in knowledge remain, and several challenges in the country will require further work.

Infections have been reported in several locations in the Kingdom, including infections acquired in health facilities in Riyadh, Qassim Region and Damman City, Eastern region.

Members of the joint mission held discussions with high-level representatives from the Ministry of Health, visited the Command and Control Centre that has been leading all activities related to the control of the MERS-CoV, and toured the emergency and isolation facilities of the Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz Hospital.

Government officials and the WHO-led mission shared their concern about the rising number of MERS-CoV cases in recent weeks and in particular in healthcare facilities. Ahmed Bin Aqeel Al Khateeb, the Saudi Arabian Health Minister said: “The Kingdom has done a lot to control MERSCoV.

We want to hear WHO experts’ feedback on the Kingdom’s progress and also where we can improve. The government is fully committed to implementing the right control and prevention measures and also to funding any activities needed to control this disease.”

The Minister also stressed the need to enable any hospital, whether government-run or private to handle a MERS-CoV case.

Stopping the outbreak

The mission questioned how and why infections occur in the community adding that this is not yet understood and is critical for stopping the outbreak.

In addition, cases that occur in healthcare settings require further analysis to fully understand what steps are needed to ensure infection prevention and control measures are adequately implemented. The fact that infections are still occurring in some healthcare settings, but not in others, indicates that current infection control measures are effective but not implemented.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant-Director General, who led the mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said: “When health workers are infected at work, this puts other healthcare workers at risk, but also can be a risk to all other patients who seek care for other health conditions. Understanding where the breach in these measures is occurring and taking the steps needed to fully implement infection prevention and control measures can put an end to these nosocomial infections.”

Dr Ghazi Yehia, Regional Representative, OIE, said: “The OIE is encouraging close collaboration between public health and animal health at national and international levels. OIE is ready to help achieve this.”

Besides implementing good infection control and prevention measures, efforts to educate professionals and the public are urgently needed, the mission said in a statement. There are also significant gaps in community engagement to fully understand routes of infection and the preventive steps that should be taken. Defining groups that are most at risk, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, and how to target these groups with the right health messages remains a challenge.

Dr Berhe Tekola, Director of Animal Production and Health Division, FAO, said: “There are so many aspects of the virus that are still unknown. FAO is determined to use its expertise to better understand the human and animal interface of this virus.”

 Date of upload: 20th March 2015


                                               Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved.