via New Scientist
Talk about keeping things quiet. The disease-tracking world was rocked today by an announcement from Saudi Arabia’s health ministry. Apparently the country has had 691 cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) since January 2013, not the 575 it had reported until yesterday. Worse, 41 per cent of the total cases have resulted in death, when it was previously thought to be 33 per cent.
The admission comes the day after the Saudi health minister, himself a replacement for a minster sacked in April, dismissed Ziad Memish as the country’s top medical official for MERS. Memish has been criticised for being slow to release data on the infection.
The ministry has not yet said how the new cases were found, but they could have emerged from a search of hospital records. Or over-stretched labs might have finally tested a backlog of samples.
Most of those infections were picked up in hospitals, 28 per cent of them by health workers, from people already infected. The original source of infection is still unknown, although camels are suspected. Systematic comparisons of people with and without MERS are needed to track down the source of the virus, say epidemiologists, but these have not yet been done.
The Saudi ministry says it will be able to better track the infection in future, using an electronic case-reporting system, more and better testing labs, and a “robust countrywide courier system” to get specimens to them.