Saudi health minister replaced as MERS cases rise sharply

2014 01 31 14 27 22 437 Mers Coronavirus 250 20140131212839

Saudi Arabia has dismissed its minister of health as the government on April 23 confirmed 11 new cases of the potentially deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) across three Saudi cities.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah was relieved of his post via a royal decree on April 22, and Adel bin Mohammed Faqih, minister of labor, was assigned to his position.

While the majority of the 11 cases were reported from Riyadh and Jeddah, one case of a 24-year-old man was reported from the Muslim holy city of Mecca. According to a report from Reuters, this could possibly be the first case reported from Mecca, which is one of the cities annually visited by millions of pilgrims.

According to a Ministry of Health announcement, eight of the affected people are in intensive care, two are in stable condition, and one case is that of a 13-year-old girl who had contact with a confirmed MERS case, even though she doesn't have any symptoms. Three of the cases are healthcare workers.

These new cases follow a spike in MERS infection across the country, including 12 new cases that were reported on April 21 and the 13 cases reported on April 20. A total of 244 cases have been reported in the country between September 2012 and April, 2014, according to the ministry.

The MERS virus causes symptoms similar to those of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, such as fever, coughing, and pneumonia. The majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia, while the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar also have had incidents. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that recent travelers returning from the Middle East who develop severe acute respiratory infections should be tested for MERS.

A recently revealed case of MERS in Malaysia was diagnosed in a person who had just returned from Saudi Arabia. The 54-year-old man with underlying health conditions had traveled to Jeddah with a pilgrimage group of 18 people. He died on April 13.

The rise in MERS cases is of particular concern as Saudi Arabia prepares for millions of international pilgrims during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, followed by the Hajj that is performed two months later.

Just a few days before his dismissal, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah stressed in a press conference that the Ministry of Health is fully ready for the Umrah and Hajj seasons of this year. He also said the situation of the virus was "reassuring" and the rate of MERS incidence was low, and he stressed that the situation was not an epidemic, according to a recent press release.

The new minister for health has visited the King Fahad Hospital in Jeddah to check on the health of MERS cases there, including health practitioners and citizens. Some infected patients have recovered, while others are still in critical conditions and need treatment and follow-up, he said.

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