Two women have died of the coronavirus MERS in Saudi Arabia, the health ministry said, bringing the total number of fatalities in the kingdom to 44.

The victims were identified on Saturday as a 41-year-old health sector worker in Riyadh and a 79-year-old woman who suffered from chronic illnesses and who came into contact with a patient stricken by the virus in the northeastern city of Hafr Al Baten.

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Meanwhile, a Qatari man has also died from the virus, becoming the second fatality from the SARS-like virus to be recorded in the Gulf state, a health authority said on Saturday.

The man died on Friday after he showed symptoms of the coronavirus on August 17, Qatar's Supreme Council of Health said, adding that the man had been suffering from a chronic illness.

The virus has killed 50 people out of 108 confirmed cases of infections, the World Health Organisation said on its website on August 30. Saudi Arabia is the country worst hit by MERS.

Experts are struggling to understand MERS - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - for which there is still no vaccine and which has an extremely high fatality rate of more than 51 percent.

It is considered a cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

Like SARS, MERS is thought to have jumped from animals to humans, and it shares the former’s flu-like symptoms - but differs by also causing kidney failure.

According to research published last month in the American health journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, MERS was transmitted to humans from bats.

But a study in the Lancet found that the virus could have come from camels.

Source: Agencies