Saudi Arabia Sees 11 New MERS Cases as Virus Sweeps to Mecca

Saudi Arabia reported another 11 cases of a potentially deadly respiratory virus, including the first in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

Six of the people to have newly contracted Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, were in Jeddah, the kingdom’s largest city, with another four in the capital, Riyadh, and one in Mecca, according to a health ministry statement. That brings the total number of cases in the country to 272.

“We are concerned about these new cases in health facilities” in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for World Health Organization, in an e-mail. “We are unaware at this point of the specific types of exposure in the health care facilities that have resulted in transmission of these infections.”

At least 93 people have died of the disease since it emerged in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, according to the WHO. MERS, which has been linked to contact with camels, is in the same family as the SARS virus that killed about 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China.

Saudi Arabia is consulting experts from Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S. on how to combat the virus. The kingdom removed Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah from office on April 21 as it moved to fight the outbreak, replacing him on an acting basis with Labor Minister Adel Faqih.

Minor Symptoms

Although most people infected with the virus have either no or minor symptoms and are not infectious, critical information gaps remain to better understand the transmission of the virus as well as the route of infection, Jasarevic said.

“Every effort is being made to understand its current behavior and any potential alteration in its behavior,” Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Mohammed Zamakhshary said in an interview of the coronavirus that causes the illness.

In Jordan, a 25-year-old Saudi citizen tested positive for the disease and is in a stable condition, the state-run Petra news agency said yesterday.

“We believe MERS is a zoonotic virus, meaning that the virus comes from animals, namely camels, and is transmitted to humans,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, a senior research fellow at Imperial College in London and a technical expert for the WHO. “The virus can also be transmitted from human to human, which we have seen between family members and health-care workers caring for MERS patients.”

The virus has spread to Southeast Asia, killing a Malaysian man who visited Saudi Arabia, the WHO said last week. A Filipino health-care worker returning from Abu Dhabi who initially tested positive for MERS was shown not to have the virus when a second test was carried out.

Saudi Arabia expects millions of pilgrims from around the world to perform the annual Haj in Mecca and Medina in early October.

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