The mysterious coronavirus that emerged in the Middle East last year may have started spreading from person to person. Health authorities in Saudi Arabia revealed this week that a cluster of cases in the east of the country were all linked to a single hospital. The similarity of the outbreak to the SARS epidemic of a decade ago is sending a shudder through public health experts worldwide.
Ziad Memish, the Saudi deputy health minister, told ProMed, the online forum on emerging disease, that 13 people in the kingdom fell ill with the virus – now called MERS – in the second half of April. Their average age was over 50, they had other problems such as heart or kidney disease or diabetes – and they had all visited the Al-Moosa Hospital in the town of Hofuf, shortly before developing a high fever and breathing problems.
Memish also told a press conference in Riyadh this week that the MERS virus has three new mutations compared to earlier sequences of the virus. No further details could be obtained.