The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak that has hit Saudi Arabia in recent weeks has begun spreading. According to a Reuters report, Egypt this weekend confirmed its first-ever case of MERS. The Egyptian patient had been working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before returning to the country.
In addition, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reported seven new confirmed cases of MERS. One of those patients is a 4-year-old Abu Dhabi boy believed to have been infected by his mother, who recently returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia.
More than 120 cases of MERS have been reported in Saudi Arabia in the past month. The center of the outbreak seems to be the city of Jeddah, a port city on the Red Sea where seven cases of MERS have been confirmed this month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) most of the infections have been secondary cases in which healthcare workers or other hospital patients have been infected by someone who already has the virus.
The WHO reports 254 cases of MERS have been confirmed since the virus first appeared two years ago in April 2012. Of those cases, 93 have resulted in the patient's death.
MERS is a coronavirus that causes severe respiratory difficulties in humans. Symptoms of an infection include coughing, fever, and shortness of breath.
The healthcare community is still researching exactly how MERS is spread, though a rise in infections has now been observed during March and April for a third year in a row. The WHO has suggested that "inadequate" infection prevention and control may have contributed to the recent outbreak.
Cases of MERS outside the Middle East are rare. In addition to Saudi Arabia, the UAE has also seen a significant number of MERS cases over the past two years. Other countries to report MERS infections include Qatar, Jordan, the UK, Kuwait, Tunisia, France, and Germany.
Image via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)