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Scope and extent of healthcare-associated Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus transmission during two contemporaneous outbreaks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2017



To investigate a Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak event involving multiple healthcare facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; to characterize transmission; and to explore infection control implications.


Outbreak investigation.


Cases presented in 4 healthcare facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: a tertiary-care hospital, a specialty pulmonary hospital, an outpatient clinic, and an outpatient dialysis unit.


Contact tracing and testing were performed following reports of cases at 2 hospitals. Laboratory results were confirmed by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) and/or genome sequencing. We assessed exposures and determined seropositivity among available healthcare personnel (HCP) cases and HCP contacts of cases.


In total, 48 cases were identified, involving patients, HCP, and family members across 2 hospitals, an outpatient clinic, and a dialysis clinic. At each hospital, transmission was linked to a unique index case. Moreover, 4 cases were associated with superspreading events (any interaction where a case patient transmitted to ≥5 subsequent case patients). All 4 of these patients were severely ill, were initially not recognized as MERS-CoV cases, and subsequently died. Genomic sequences clustered separately, suggesting 2 distinct outbreaks. Overall, 4 (24%) of 17 HCP cases and 3 (3%) of 114 HCP contacts of cases were seropositive.


We describe 2 distinct healthcare-associated outbreaks, each initiated by a unique index case and characterized by multiple superspreading events. Delays in recognition and in subsequent implementation of control measures contributed to secondary transmission. Prompt contact tracing, repeated testing, HCP furloughing, and implementation of recommended transmission-based precautions for suspected cases ultimately halted transmission.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Marie E. Killerby, Division of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. E-mail:


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PREVIOUS PRESENTATION: Data from this study were presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (ICEID) on August 29, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia.


Authors of equal contribution.

Cite this article: Alanazi KH, et al. (2019). Scope and extent of healthcare-associated Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus transmission during two contemporaneous outbreaks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2017. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology 2019, 40, 79–88. doi: 10.1017/ice.2018.290



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Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology
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