Since MERS was first identified in humans in 2012, the virus has spread to more than 20 countries, including the United States. The World Health Organisation has confirmed 700 cases resulting in more than 200 deaths to date.
While scientists suspect that the disease first came to humans from camels, the spread of MERS throughout the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, has been attributed to hospital-related outbreaks. A recent report from the World Health Organisation found a “lack of systematic implementation of infection prevention and control measures” in hospitals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The New York Times reported on several instances where the disease was not successfully contained at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a city at the center of the outbreak:
Suspected MERS cases were not always identified and isolated, and patients unwittingly spread the virus around the hospital — one in the cardiac ward, and another among dialysis patients, according to Dr. Ahmed Ragab, chief of the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Overcrowding in hospital rooms was an issue, as well as lax sanitary measures (such as hand washing) among medical staff.
Poor communication may have also played a role.
The Saudi health ministry command and control center is reporting higher numbers than the World Health Organisation, placing the number of cases in the country at 712, with 292 deaths. That’s because earlier this month, the ministry announced an additional 113 MERS cases that had gone unreported due to “poor communication and a lack of accountability in government departments,” according to Reuters. The World Health Organisation is currently working with Saudi officials to investigate these previously unreported cases.
Saudi officials are confident that the management of MERS will be better going forward, since the acting health minister was fired in April. His replacement, Adel Fakieh, the labour minister, took office two months ago and has since tightened the reporting process and infection control procedures.
According to both the Saudi health ministry and the World Health Organisation, the number of MERS cases since mid-May has sharply declined.
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