Saudi Arabia has reported another human infection with the new coronavirus that emerged earlier this year. The case is the third confirmed infection caused by the newly identified virus, which is from the same family as SARS.
The report of the new case comes at a sensitive time. The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims to the holy city of Mecca, concluded last week. The Hajj brings over two million Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia.
Those pilgrims will now be making their way back to their home countries. The Saudi Ministry of the Hajj website says the final day for Hajj pilgrims to depart Saudi Arabia is Nov. 29.
Dr. Ziad Memish, the Saudi deputy minister of health, reported the new case Sunday via ProMED, an Internet-based infectious diseases monitoring system closely watched by public health officials around the world.
Memish said the man, who lives in the capital city, Riyadh, had no links to the two earlier cases of infection with the new virus. The first known case was a Saudi man who died in June, the second a Qatari man who is in hospital in Britain. He became ill in early September.
Memish did not reveal when the newest case was spotted, but it was clearly not in the last day or two. The man, who was admitted to hospital with pneumonia, had been in intensive care but has now recovered to the point where he has been moved to a different ward.
As well, some work have already been done to see if any people who had contact with the man have been or are sick. If there were reports of illness among people with contact with the man, it would suggest the virus might be spreading person to person. But single cases are more suggestive of transmission from an animal source to humans.
"With regard to the patient's current status, he is recovering and out of intensive care," Memish said.
"We have done preliminary investigations of family members and contacts including health-care workers. There are no apparent secondary cases at this time, however these investigations are on-going."
The man visited a farm about a week prior to becoming ill, Memish said in his dispatch. He did not say what types of animals were found on the farm.
It has been reported that the man from Qatar also had a farm where he kept camels and sheep.
Several teams of international experts, from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University have spent time in Saudi Arabia looking for the possible source of the virus.
A study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine hypothesized that the virus probably derives from pipistrellus bats, a conclusion drawn from comparing the genetic sequence of the virus to other known coronaviruses and the species that carry them.
But that report could not say whether the virus moved directly from bats to people — perhaps through exposure to bat guano or some other contact — or from a bat to another animal and from it to people.
Memish said the World Health Organization had been alerted to the new case, as required by the International Health Regulations. That treaty requires all countries to notify the WHO of disease outbreaks that could have international significance.