Thursday, February 20, 2014

Saudi MERS Totals Rise; Researchers Call for Transparency

Cough and Sneeze Etiquette (from Saudi MOH)
In a brief statement, the Ministry of Health reported two new cases of MERS in the Saudi Kingdom today.

A 58 year old man from Al-Ahsa, who suffers from underlying medical conditions, is currently 'receiving the proper treatment', according to the announcement.

An 81 year old woman has passed away in Riyadh from MERS. She also suffered from chronic medical conditions.

No other details about these cases, including travel history or exposure to other MERS patients or animals, was released. Scarcity of information continues to frustrate researchers, who have yet to identify the source of the virus or method of transmission.

According to this study by the Annals of Internal Medicine, published January 27, 2014:
"The severity of symptoms, high fatality rate, and ease of transmission resemble the infection caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) but data on MERS-CoV-infected critically ill patients are limited."
The scientific community's need for reliable and timely information is frustrated by a Saudi legal and cultural emphasis on personal privacy.

The custom of protecting personal information is fundamental and permeates the culture. It is based on a local interpretation of Sharia (Islamic) Law and is codified in the Saudi Constitution. Legal action can be taken against someone who wrongfully discloses another's personal data.

Despite the tension between local law and scientific need, the study concludes:
"The authors suggest an urgent collaborative study to examine therapeutic options to treat MERS-CoV, as the disease has the potential to become a worldwide public health threat. The authors of an accompanying editorial cite lessons learned from SARS-CoV and agree that scientific transparency and collaboration is needed to effectively protect populations from MERS-CoV."
CIDRAP reports there have been 186 cases of MERS worldwide with 81 deaths to date. The Saudi Ministry of Health website officially recognizes 147 MERS cases in KSA, including 61 fatalities.

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