France Announces Second Novel Coronavirus, or MERS, Case

Since Friday, May 10, a second case of novel coronavirus (now being referred to as MERS or Middle East Respiratory syndrome coronavirus) was detected in France. This brings the global case count to 34 cases and 18 deaths. Or so we think.

A 50-year-old man who shared a hospital room with France’s first case was confirmed as the nation’s second MERS patient on Sunday, May 12. The two men shared a room between April 27 and April 29. Both French cases have been transferred to a hospital in Lille since diagnosis.

According to Reuters, the head of the infectious disease unit at the Lille Hospital, Professor Benoit Guery, believes that while airborne transmission of the virus looks possible, the virus still remains one “that is not easily transmitted.”

French authorities are monitoring contacts of both patients to ensure detection of any further cases.

Including the two French cases, the WHO counts 34 MERS cases and 18 MERS deaths. This substantial increase in cases is due to a recently detected cluster in a Saudi Arabian healthcare facility. The WHO reports 15 cases and seven deaths in from this cluster alone. Some reports suggest the cluster is limited to one facility, while others suggest there are cases elsewhere. But in a report from Arab News, picked up by Crawford Kilian in his comprehensive and frequently-updated blog, there is mention of not 15 cases but 45. Here is an excerpt:

“During the press briefing on Sunday, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said that since last September, the kingdom diagnosed 45 virus infected patients, of whom 15 died. He corrected previous reports that the virus attack was confined to Al-Ahsa province, and said there were incidences in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh.” 

In just a few lines, about two-thirds of the way through the article, the author sneaks in a suggestion that the virus has appeared in other health facilities and that there are possibly 30 cases of MERS that we have not accounted for.

Understandably, the statement caused some concern. Somewhat easing our worries, Canadian reporter, Helen Branswell, confirmed via Twitter that the Saudi Deputy Minister of Public Health, Dr. Ziad Ahmed Memish, had rejected this claim in an email exchange. According to Memish, the case count in Saudi Arabia remains at 24 (the WHO counts 25 – the first UK case got sick in Saudi Arabia).

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