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WHO: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1 February 2021)

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  • WHO: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1 February 2021)


    Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

    Disease Outbreak News: Update
    1 February 2021

    Between 1 June through 31 December 2020, the National IHR Focal Point of Saudi Arabia reported four additional cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) with one associated death. The cases were reported from Riyadh (two cases), Taif (one case), and Al-Ahsaa (one case) Regions.

    The link below provides details of the four reported cases.
    From 2012 through 31 December 2020, a total of 2566 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV and 882 associated deaths were reported globally to WHO under the International Health regulations (IHR 2005). The total number of deaths includes the deaths that WHO is aware of to date through follow-up with affected member states.
    WHO risk assessment

    Infection with MERS-CoV can cause severe disease resulting in high mortality. Humans are infected with MERS-CoV from direct or indirect contact with dromedaries. MERS-CoV has demonstrated the ability to transmit between humans. So far, the observed non-sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred mainly in health care settings.

    The notification of additional cases does not change the overall risk assessment. However, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the testing capacity for MERS-CoV have been severely affected in many countries since most of the resources have been redirected towards SARS-CoV-2. The Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia is working to increase the testing capacities for better detection of MERS-CoV infections.

    WHO expects that additional cases of MERS-CoV infection will be reported from the Middle East, and that cases will continue to be exported to other countries by individuals who might acquire the infection after exposure to dromedaries, animal products (for example, consumption of camel’s raw milk), or humans (for example, in a health care setting or household contacts).

    WHO continues to monitor the epidemiological situation and conducts risk assessment based on the latest available information.
    WHO advice

    Based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all Member States to continue their surveillance for acute respiratory infections, including MERS-CoV, and to carefully review any unusual patterns. Given limited capacities in countries for testing, WHO advises that countries should test all suspect MERS-CoV cases, and a subset sample of severe acute respiratory infections for MERS-CoV.

    Infection prevention and control measures (IPC) are critical to prevent the possible spread of MERS-CoV in health care facilities. It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS-CoV infection early because like other respiratory infections, the early symptoms of MERS-CoV infection are non-specific. Therefore, healthcare workers should always apply standard precautions consistently with all patients, regardless of their diagnosis. Droplet precautions should be added to the standard precautions when providing care to patients with symptoms of acute respiratory infection; contact precautions and eye protection should be added when caring for probable or confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection; airborne precautions should be applied when performing aerosol generating procedures.

    Early identification, case management and isolation, together with appropriate infection prevention and control measures can prevent human-to-human transmission of MERS-CoV.

    MERS-CoV appears to cause more severe disease in people with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons. Therefore, these people should avoid close contact with animals, particularly dromedaries, when visiting farms, markets, or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially circulating. General hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing before and after touching animals and avoiding contact with sick animals, should be adhered to.

    Food hygiene practices should be observed. People should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked.

    WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions.