Another three people have died in Saudi Arabia after contracting the MERS coronavirus, bringing the kingdom's total fatalities of the SARS-like virus to 47.

A Saudi man, aged 74, died in the western city of Medina after being in contact with an infected person, the health ministry said on Sunday on its website.

A 56-year-old foreigner, who worked in the health sector, also died in Medina, while another Saudi, aged 53, who suffered chronic diseases, died in Riyadh, the ministry added.

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The health authority also announced five new cases of infection of the coronavirus, including an 18-year-old Saudi man, and a three-year-old girl in Hafr al-Baten, in the northeast, who contracted the virus after being in contact with an infected person.

The three others are all Saudi nationals.

The virus has killed 54 people out of 108 confirmed cases of infections, the World Health Organisation said on its website on Saturday. 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