In 2014 a stepwise increase in Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) cases preceded the largest healthcare facility outbreak of MERS to date.
If you look at the most recent daily Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) Ministry of Health report below, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is currently a threatening rise in cases which could easily spiral out of control once again unless it is quickly stepped on.
When these fires are let smoulder in this way, they can quickly spread embers across the region and then cases fly out to other ports.
A week ago there were 8 cases reported in a day. That's far from the biggest reporting day we've seen in 3 MERS years (around 31 cases in a day n April '14), but it's still high. There have been 11 consecutive days with 2 -8 cases reported each day. The region in the map above has been the hotspot, but in the 12-March report there were 4 cases, each in a different city.
There have also been an usually high number of camel mentions so far this MERS season. We do not usually see so many consecutive cases reported to have some form of camel contact. These are from cases across the KSA but also from United Arab Emirates- and Oman-acquired cases too. Is this because of a better understanding and acceptance of the role of camels in spreading MERS-CoV to humans, after research really hammered home the facts, or is it that more camels are infected, or there are more infected herds this season, are other animals becoming infected, or is it that, for some unknown reason, there is more contact between humans and infected camels/other animals this season?
There have been no viral gene or genome sequences from 2016 arriving on the interwebs yet, so we are left with a few of the old questions...again
- is this all normal or is something different this time around?
- has this season's MERS-CoV undergone a significant genetic change(s), affecting stability, tropism or transmission?
- has infection control and prevention slipped again?
- is there more contact with infected camels this year?
- are increased camel descriptions an indication of better surveillance and questioning about camel contact?
Time to start watching and plotting MERS-CoV again.