A distinctive feature of the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak is the fact that confirmed case-patients are dominated by elderly individuals. Through February 28, 2014, the average age of a MERS-infected individual in Saudi Arabia was 52.3 years old (n=157). A recent media report, however, suggests that the average of infected individuals is decreasing in Saudi Arabia.
“A Health Ministry source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that the average age of those being infected by the [MERS] virus is decreasing, adding that over the past four months the average age of those infected was between 35 and 40 years of age” (link)
The statement is at variance with the data published by the Saudi Ministry of Health, although the age of infected individuals has been decreasing. Since March 1, 2014 the average age of an infected patient has only decreased to 46.8 years (n=32). This decrease in average age is significant because many of the reported younger cases are health care workers in Jeddah with hospital- or contact-acquired infections. Rather than infection from an animal reservoir, many of these infections are a result of human-to-human transmission. Several of the cases in Jeddah are asymptomatic and were only identified by contact tracing.
The report today (link) of six health care workers (1 died) infected with MERS in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi demonstrates the infective nature of this coronavirus in a health care or hospital setting. Importantly, the media report indicates that all six of these individuals from the United Arab Emirates were younger than 40 years old. There is now growing evidence that younger people are susceptible to the MERS coronavirus, at least in the context of hospital settings.