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MERS toll rises with new Saudi Arabia deaths

Death toll reaches 126, after five more die and 18 new cases are recorded with virus continuing to spread.

Last updated: 09 May 2014 05:50
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A total of 463 people in the kingdom have been infected by the disease [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has announced five more deaths from the MERS coronavirus and 14 new infections, as it battles to contain the disease which has now killed 126 people in the country.

The World Health Organisation, after a five-day mission to Jeddah, pinpointed breaches in its "recommended infection prevention and control measures" as being partly responsible for an increase in infections in the city.

The disease, which first appeared in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, has now infected a total number 463 Saudis, accounting for the bulk of cases registered across the globe, according to the Ministry of Health.

The WHO said the recent increase in numbers of infections did not suggest a "significant change in the transmissibility of the virus".

"The majority of human-to-human infections occurred in health-care facilities," it said, adding that a quarter of all cases had been health-care workers and urged them to improve their knowledge and attitude about the disease.

It reiterated that there was no need to introduce special screening at points of entry, nor was there a need to restrict entry to the country.

Amid public disquiet about the spread of the virus, Saudi Arabia's acting health minister Adel Fakieh announced on Tuesday the sacking of the head of Jeddah's King Fahd Hospital, where a spike in MERS infections among medical staff sparked panic.

MERS is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments for MERS, a disease with a mortality rate of more than 40 percent that experts are still struggling to understand.

Some researchers think it may originate in camels.

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