Saudi Arabia's Sars-like virus death toll now 32

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 3:50am

Four more people have died and three more have fallen ill in Saudi Arabia from the new Sars-like coronavirus MERS-CoV.

The Saudi Health Ministry said yesterday the four deaths were among previously registered cases. The new infections were in Eastern Province, in the capital, Riyadh, and in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia has been the country most affected by the respiratory-system virus, with 49 confirmed cases, of whom 32 have died. The worldwide death toll released by the World Health Organisation stands at 34.

The virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Gulf to France, Britain and Germany. The WHO has called it the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The new coronavirus may have emerged almost a year earlier than the first known case and circulated unnoticed.

The genetic sequence of a virus taken from a 73-year-old patient who died in Munich in March, together with sequences from four other patients, suggests a common ancestor halfway through 2011, researchers at the University of Bonn Medical Centre in Germany wrote in the latest Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. The first known case was in Jordan in April last year.

The finding provides another clue as researchers try to figure out where the virus came from and how it is spreading. While most cases have been identified in Saudi Arabia, they have also been detected in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and Britain.

"Genetic data is urgently needed to establish the spatial and temporal distribution of cases, estimate the number of independent human chains of transmission, and thus better assess the threat" the virus poses, researchers led by Christian Drosten wrote.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg