Patients recruited for vital studies on Saudi MERS virus

Mon Jun 30, 2014 11:53am EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia says it has recruited patients for a crucial study on the source of the deadly MERS virus, acknowledging it is late but pledging more work on the epidemic after international criticism of its slow response.

Scientists and global public health experts have faulted Saudi Arabia's response for allowing the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, which has now killed nearly 300 people inside the kingdom.

Among Riyadh's failings has been the lack of a type of research known as a "case-control" study, which compares the histories of people with a disease to a "control group" of people who do not have it, to try to determine what causes it.

The kingdom's chief scientist, Tariq Madani, said the study was now under way, having so far enrolled the first 10 "cases" - people who had the disease and either died or recovered - alongside 40 "controls" to compare them with. Ideally, the study would look at 20 cases and 80 controls, he said.

He hoped it would at last answer questions about how the virus passes from animals to humans, where it can cause respiratory disease and fever, and kills more than a third of people known to contract it.


The World Health Organization (WHO) and other critics say the Saudi failure to properly investigate the causes of the disease, including the absence of a case-control study, contributed to the virus taking hold there and spreading via travelers to some 20 countries around the world.   Continued...

A man wearing a mask walks outside Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz hospital, in Riyadh June 6, 2014.  REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser