Friday 16 January 2015

MERS-CoV snapdate on canaries...

MERS-CoV detections among healthcare workers (HCWs)

HCWs are akin to the canary in the coal mine - when HCWs get sick with a particular bug, this can signal that the bug may well be more active in the the wider community. 

This graph looks at the canaries and suggest that there has been a relatively long period in which they have been getting infected.

Healthcare workers positive for MERS-CoV over time.
Some reported or hypothesized clusters and outbreaks are flagged.
Click on image to enlarge.

A quick look at my database shows that most of the MERS-CoV-positive HCWs reported since October have been from Riyadh in Ar Riyadh region and Taif in Makkah region. 

Just before that, in early September, there were 2 HCWs from Jubail in the Ash Sharqiyah (eastern) region. 

If we look at the new time-based occurrence heatmap I have on my MERS-CoV static page here, the recent group of HCWs come from the areas with most cases. No big surprise there. Perhaps more surprising is why these HCWs are, presumably, still acquiring there infection in hospital settings given eh attention that infection prevention and control practices had, especially (before?) during and after the Jeddah outbreak last year.

A recent paper from Profs Drosten and Memish speaks to this topic of infection control and hospital spread of MERS-CoV a little.[1] 

It reports finding a 40-year old female (40F) nurse who, despite MERS-CoV being such a wimpy transmitter between humans, became infected after attending an infected patient. 40F did not perform any aerosol-generating procedures  but also wore only a surgical mask and gloves - it reads as though she was not fully protected against droplet, and certainly not against airborne, exposure. 

The 40F HCW then went on to shed virus for a 42-day period as determined by MERS-CoV specific RT-PCR. She was not ill during this time. Hard to contain much?

So with all that in mind, it's no longer hard to imagine how spread of MERS-CoV virus occurs within, around and between hospital settings. Also helps to explain how some of the new cases might seem strange - if not testing for subclinical or asymptomatic cases as a routine. I recall that in Saudi Arabia routine testing of milder cases is not occurring, but I cannot find a source for that recollection just now so I stand to be corrected (please send if you know if a reference that alludes to that).

A couple of quick questions spring to mind:
  1. Just how widespread is this lengthy shedding period?
  2. What does this say about how mild a virus MERS-CoV is when comorbidities are not a factor?
  3. What role do genetics play in the host's containment and clearance of MERS-CoV infection?
Heatmap of MERS-CoV detection by date and region
within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Click on image to enlarge.
  1. A Case of Long-term Excretion and Subclinical Infection With Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus in a Healthcare Worker. Manal Al-Gethamy, Victor M. Corman, Raheela Hussain, Jaffar A. Al-Tawfiq, Christian Drosten and Ziad A. Memish.

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