Pace of new MERS infections in Saudi Arabia slows to four a day

RIYADH Tue May 27, 2014 7:28am EDT

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RIYADH May 27 (Reuters) - The rate of infection of a deadly virus in Saudi Arabia has slowed since mid May and Monday was the first day free of new cases in six weeks, figures released by the kingdom's Health Ministry showed.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was discovered in Saudi Arabia two years ago and has since infected 562 people in the kingdom, killing 179 of them. It can cause flu-like symptoms, pneumonia and organ failure in some.

A surge in new cases in April prompted King Abdullah to sack the health minister and led to criticism of infection control procedures in many Saudi hospitals. There were also concerns the government was not taking seriously MERS's link to camels.

Cases have also been discovered in other countries, including the United States, Britain and France and, most recently, in Iran. Most of these cases are linked to people who have recently visited Gulf Arab countries.

In the first two weeks of the month, the daily number of new cases in Saudi Arabia averaged nearly 11, but since May 14 the average number of new confirmed infections has been a little over four a day, the figures show.

Late on Monday the ministry reported its first day free of new confirmed infections since April 13.

The number of new patients had soared across Saudi Arabia, with the total number of confirmed cases jumping to 511 on May 14 from the 173 confirmed in laboratories at the end of March.

International scientists have also complained that Saudi authorities have not done enough to work with them on investigating the disease, something the kingdom's Health Ministry denies. (Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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