While the Saudis are questioning those who become ill and testing people that victims had contact with, they aren’t indicating that they have questioned others who didn’t become ill, so-called case controls, Dr Mounts said in an interview.
Such comparisons are critical to sorting out what ill people might have done — what they might have eaten, or come in contact with — that caused them to become infected. “You have to have that comparison group,” Dr Mounts said.
Saudi officials denied that they were withholding critical information or failing to gather enough data. Rather, they said, the investigations in coordination with Western health experts are continuing.
“It’s very difficult to give all the details to the people when we don’t know all the details,” Ziad Memish, the deputy health minister, said in September at his office in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Dr Memish said that the Saudi government is sharing its data with the WHO, but keeping certain details from the public to protect patient privacy.
He also said the government is running Mers advisories on television and in newspapers.
But in Hafr Al Batin, a remote town in Saudi Arabia’s northeast, relatives of four recent victims complained that no one in the family had ever heard warnings about the new disease or how to avoid catching it. “We had no idea,” Jawal Al Sahly, who lost his 39-year-old brother Fahd Al Sahly, their mother and two other family members, said.
Hospital workers in the town — site of 11 confirmed cases — kept telling Fahd that “he’s not sick, ‘You’re making a big deal out of nothing,’” Jawal said.