RIYADH — The novel coronavirus, a new strain of the virus similar to the one that caused SARS, is not restricted to Al-Ahsa but cases have also been reported from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, disclosed Minister of Health Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeah at a press conference here on Sunday.
There were 24 confirmed cases since last summer, of whom 15 had died. Three suspected cases were still under investigation, including previous negative results that were being re-examined, the minister said.
World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda, who also attended the press conference, told reporters that there was no evidence so far the virus was able to sustain “generalized transmission in communities” — a scenario that would raise the specter of a pandemic. But he added: “Of most concern ... is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries ... increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact, this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person. There is a need for countries to ... increase levels of awareness.”
Fukuda, part of a WHO team visiting Saudi Arabia to investigate the spread of the disease, said although no specific vaccine or medication was yet available for novel coronavirus, patients were responding to treatment. “The care that is taken in the hospitals, in terms of using respirators well, in terms of treating pneumonia, in terms of treating complications, in terms of providing support, these steps can get patients through this very severe illness,” he said.
Fukuda said that as far as he knew all cases in the latest outbreak in Al-Ahsa district were directly or indirectly linked to one hospital.
He dismissed the notion that the coronavirus infection in Al-Ahsa was caused by a contaminated dialysis equipment in the hospital, commending the Saudi government’s prompt action of taking the situation very seriously by initiating investigation and important research and putting control measures in place. “I would like to remind everyone that this is a new infection and there are also many gaps in our knowledge that will inevitably take time to fill in,” Fukuda said.
“We know that the disease is caused by a virus from a group called coronaviruses. One member of the coronavirus family is the SARS virus. This new virus is not the SARS virus. They are distinct from each other. We know this virus has infected people since 2012, but we don’t know where this virus lives," he added.
“We know that when people get infected, many of them develop severe pneumonia. What we don’t know is how often people might develop mild disease. We also know that most of the people who have been infected so far have been older men, often with other medical conditions. We are not sure why we are seeing this pattern and if it will change over time, “ he said.
Dr. Ziad Mimish, MoH Undersecretary for Public Health, said that the procedure taken in the Al-Ahsa healthcare facilities, especially the one which witnessed the breakout of virus, have contributed in stopping new cases.
On Sunday French authorities announced that a second man had been diagnosed with the disease after sharing a hospital room with France’s only other sufferer. The first French patient was confirmed as suffering from the disease on Wednesday after traveling in the Gulf. The second patient was transferred to intensive care on Sunday after the two men shared a room in a hospital in Lille.
Professor Benoit Guery, head of the Lille hospital’s infectious diseases unit, said the first patient had not been immediately isolated becuase he presented “quite atypical” symptoms.