Unusual presentation of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus leading to a large outbreak in Riyadh during 2017

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The hallmark of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) disease is the ability to cause major health care-associated nosocomial outbreaks with superspreading events leading to massive numbers of cases and excessive morbidity and mortality. In this report, we describe a patient who presented with acute renal failure requiring hemodialysis and became a MERS-CoV superspreader, igniting a recent multihospital outbreak in Riyadh.

Material and Results:

Between May 31 and June 15, 2017, 44 cases of MERS-CoV infection were reported from 3 simultaneous clusters from 3 health care facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, including 11 fatal cases. Out of the total reported cases, 29 cases were reported from King Saud Medical City. The cluster at King Saud Medical City was ignited by a single superspreader patient who presented with acute renal failure. After 14 hours in the open area of the emergency department and 2 hemodialysis sessions he was diagnosed with MERS-CoV. One hundred twenty contacts who had direct unprotected exposure were screened. Among those contacts, 9 out of 107 health care workers (5 nurses, 3 physicians, and 1 paramedic) and 7 out of 13 patients tested positive for MERS-CoV.


This hospital outbreak demonstrated the difficulties in diagnosing pneumonia in patients with renal and cardiac failure, which leads to delayed suspicion of MERS-CoV and hence delay in applying the proper infection control procedures. In MERS-CoV endemic countries there is an urgent need for developing rapid point-of-care testing that would assist emergency department staff in triaging suspected cases of MERS-CoV to ensure timely isolation and management of their primary illness and prevent major MERS-CoV outbreaks.

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