Four New Coronavirus Cases May Indicate The Potential For An Epidemic

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
By Paul Martin

Lawrence LeBlond
November 18, 2013

Over the past weekend, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been informed of four additional laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The new cases may actually come as no surprise to an international group of experts who reported last week that the disease may become a “slowly growing epidemic.”

Publishing a paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers have estimated that at least 62 percent of MERS cases have gone undetected, likely due to many cases being mild and not requiring hospitalization. Furthermore, surveillance efforts are geared toward the most severe cases. The research team also said it is unclear whether the disease can sustain human-to-human transmission without a recurrence of animal infections.

The scientists, hailing from Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, and the Institut Pasteur in Paris, have gathered data on 111 of the confirmed and probable cases that have been identified through August 8 of this year.

According to CIDRAP’s Robert Roos, the team followed four cases that occurred in visitors to Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to work out an estimate for the number of undetected cases of MERS. Using these cases, they then calculated the average length of their visits and then noted that that each of the visitors had passed the virus to one or two other people after returning home from their visit.

Assuming that the per-day risk of infection for the visitors was the same for residents in the countries visited and taking into consideration the number of reported cases in the Middle East, the researchers estimated that the number of symptomatic cases of MERS up to August 8 was about 940. The researchers said based on this calculation, at least 62 percent of cases have been missed.

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