New MERS deaths reported in Saudi Arabia

Total number of victims in the kingdom since September 2012 reaches 83, with most new cases in Riyadh and Jeddah.

Experts are still struggling to understand MERS, for which there is no known vaccine [AFP]

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry says two more patients who became infected with MERS have died, and that 13 others have contracted the virus.

The ministry said on Thursday that the new cases from MERS, or the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, were reported in the capital of Riyadh, as well as in the western city of Jiddah and the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, according to AP news agency.

The deaths bring to 83 the number of people who have died in the kingdom since the virus surfaced in September 2012.

Saudi Arabia has recorded a total of 285 confirmed cases.

Most of the latest cases are in Riyadh and the commercial hub Jeddah, but cases have also been reported in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, visited each year by millions of pilgrims from around the world.

The jump in MERS cases and public fears prompted Saudi Arabia to dismiss its health minister, Abdullah al-Rabiah, on Monday without an official explanation, according to AFP news agency.

Rabiah last week visited hospitals in Jeddah to calm a public hit by panic over the spread of the virus among medical staff that prompted the temporary closure of the city’s King Fahd Hospital emergency room.

Adel Fakieh, labour minister, who has taken over as acting health minister, said on Twitter late on Tuesday that he had visited the Jeddah hospital.

Fakieh promised “transparency and to promptly provide the media and society with the information needed” on the virus.

At least four doctors at King Fahd Hospital reportedly resigned last week after refusing to treat MERS patients.

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

Experts are still struggling to understand MERS, for which there is no known vaccine.

A recent study said the virus has been “extraordinarily common” in camels for at least 20 years, and it may have been passed directly from the animals to humans.

The World Health Organisation said on April 20 that it had been informed of 250 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection worldwide, of which 93 had been fatal.

WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said it has offered to help Saudi Arabia and the UAE investigate the current outbreaks “in order to determine the transmission chain of this recent cluster”.

Source: News Agencies