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The New Coronavirus: More Cases, More Deaths, Unclear Transmission

There’s lots of news to catch up with regarding the new coronavirus that emerged last summer in the Middle East and has been causing concern to international health authorities all autumn: additional cases, additional deaths, and new lab evidence that is more than a little concerning.

First: The case count has now risen from six to nine. One of those cases, we knew about already; it is the remaining person in the Saudi family cluster announced last month, whose case analysis was pending. But the other two are newly uncovered, and interesting: They are from a group of 11 health care workers and patients who fell ill in Jordan back in April. A correspondent to the mailing list ProMED actually raised a question about this cluster when the first known cases were disclosed. At the time, the cases were ruled to be not caused by coronavirus — but as the new virus had not yet been recognized, the test used was for known coronaviruses. The victims were negative on that test, but positive when a retest on their stored samples, using the new assay, was done recently.

Sadly, all three of these new cases died — so not only has the case count risen, but the fatality count has also, to 5 out of 9. Though we have only a few cases, that is still a case-fatality rate of more than 50 percent. By contrast, the case-fatality rate of SARS, the last novel coronavirus to trouble public health, was less than 10 percent.

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