First MERS Case Reported in Mecca as Cases Spike in Saudi Arabia

Posted on April 23, 2014

The first MERS-CoV cases have been reported in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. Cases of the mysterious disease have spiked in recent weeks. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus. The SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 was also caused by a coronavirus.

Reuters reports that 11 new cases were discovered yesterday. This brings the total number of cases to 272 with 81 deaths. At least 60 cases have been reported in the past ten days or so. The Mecca case is a 24-year-old man who is stable condition. Reuters says the new cases in Saudi Arabia are a concern because many Muslims will pilgrimage to Mecca in July. A spreading incurable coronavirus is concerning even without an event involving a mass gathering of people.

A recent CNN story quotes a Saudi health official who downplays the spike in cases by saying there was a similar spike in cases near the end of winter last year. However, it appears the spike this year is more significant. There are reports of the virus spreading in hospital workers.

A Time story also says there are major concerns over how Saudi officials are handling the MERS outbreak. Ian Mackay, an associate professor at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University of Queensland, tells Time that Saudi Arabia is not even reporting the sex in of the patient in some of the cases. Mackay also provides a chart here that shows the time it takes for there to be 100 new MERS cases is getting shorter.

Antibodies against the MERS coronavirus have been found in camels. The World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking coranivirus infections, including MERS, here on its website.