Friday 19 September 2014

To the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health: A request for missing data on retrospective MERS-CoV detections

From: Ian M Mackay

To: The Office of the Minister of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

I write to humbly ask for your help on a matter of infectious disease communication. I ask that you please consider completing the already near-complete public data picture for all retrospectively confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that have occurred on your soil. I ask that this be publicly released for analysis, and suitably acceptable citation, by all. The Ministry of Health has already made a number of advances in tracking and communicating new cases of MERS-CoV, addressing criticisms along the way. But there remain some small but epidemiolgically important gaps in an otherwise complete set of data that could be easily closed.

Today, the 19th of September, I make note of the Command and Control Center announcement of the discovery of 19 MERS-CoV cases, identified after retrospective analysis of cases.[1] This adds to the 113 MERS-CoV detections announced 3rd June 2014.[2] I also note the reference to removal of a duplicate case and two false positive cases. In addition to these items, there have been many identified deaths that cannot be linked to publicly announced cases because key date data are no longer published along with the time of death announcements, as they once were (see example [3]).

So I ask if it is possible for you to publish a minimum set of deidentified details from cases that have not been fully described by the World Health Organization Disease Outbreak News reports. I suggest an open access spreadsheet on the CCC website.  I do not ask that any compromising or identifying data be included nor do I believe there is a need for identification of hospital or treatment facility. I would be happy to help identify these cases if that could be of use. 

These data include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Date when symptoms began
  • Date of hospital admission
  • Date when a fatal case was first reported (allowing a link to be made)
  • City where case likely acquired

The Command and Control Center website and its updates on contemporary MERS cases have evolved into an essential global asset for many international researchers and for the global public, each of whom are still trying to understand this emerging virus. What I suggest here would add even more reach and value to your efforts to keep us all informed. 

As the custodian of over 90% of MERS case data, the world wholly relies upon your transparency, good will, expertise and willingness to openly share it. I believe a complete set of MERS-CoV data have great potential to engage more researchers from around the globe. These links may help identify new and interesting patterns that could be of use to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East and African nations trying to improve control of MERS-CoV now and in the future.

Thank you for reading this.

Yours sincerely,

Ian M. Mackay, Ph.D.
Science communicator (at)

NB. A response was received and is posted here [4]

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