MERS Cases in Saudi Arabia Underreported, Mortality Rate Rises

Check out how the differences in the case numbers spike in April.
Check out how the differences in the case numbers spike in April. –Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health

The health data world is hiding under the covers this week after a release by the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health revealed that the country’s health officials had previously underreported the number of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) cases by 114.

This update heightens the mortality rate and potential for exposure since the outbreak began again in January 2013. The mortality rate for MERS now rests at 41 percent, when it was previously at 33 percent.

According to the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health, the new total cases of MERS recorded in Saudi Arabia between January 2013 and June 2 is 688. Of that total case load, 282 died from MERS, while 53 are currently being treated, and 353 have recovered. The World Health Organization reports that Saudi Arabia has confirmed 44 MERS cases since May 19.


Saudi Arabia’s previous top health official for MERS, Ziad Memish, was fired this week facing criticism that he was deliberately delaying the release of infection data. Now, the Saudi health officials promise, the reliability and speed of reporting measures will improve. One of the biggest changes? Improving the access and speed with which results return from the labs that test specimens for the MERS virus, which can make all the difference in containing the virus and treating those afflicted.

Right now, there is no cure for MERS, and only patients’ symptoms are treated.

In Saudi Arabia, most of the additional infections (28 percent) were health workers who contracted the virus after treating patients who were infected. While researchers have not landed on a definite cause, camels are still thought to be one theory as to why the virus is spreading in the country. A new report released today traced the connection between the animals and human contamination with MERS.

With that many MERS cases walking around unbeknownst to anyone, how many more could not even realize they have this highly contagious and uncureable upper respiratory infection before it spreads further? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

We can’t sit too high on our public health reporting horses, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took back their initial report that the Middle East virus had spread to an Illinois man who shook hands with a man who contracted MERS after traveling to Saudi Arabia.


“The Ministry is committed to fully understanding MERS-CoV and putting in place the policies needed to protect public health and safety. To do this the Ministry has reviewed historical cases of MERS-CoV to give a more comprehensive understanding of the facts,’’ Dr Tariq Madani, Head of the Scientific Advisory Board within the Ministry’s Command and Control Center said in a news release. “While the review has resulted in higher total number of previously unreported cases, we still see a decline in the number of new cases reported over the past few weeks.’’

To recover from that morbid news, watch a local version of the Saudi public health campaign, which with magic wand sound effects, makes you think avoiding the MERS virus is a magical Disneyland experience.

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