LONDON Dec 31 Another five people in Saudi
Arabia and one in the United Arab Emirates have become infected
with the potentially deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
(MERS) virus, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.
The new infections, including one fatal case in a
73-year-old Saudi man and three in Saudi health workers who
showed no adverse symptoms, bring the total confirmed cases of
the respiratory disease to 176, of which 74 have died, the
United Nations health agency said.
MERS emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same
family as the SARS virus. It can cause coughing, fever and
Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly
small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases
and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping
scientists and public health officials on alert.
Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait,
Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Tunisia as well as in
several countries in Europe, and scientists are increasingly
focused on a link between the human infections and camels as a
possible "animal reservoir" of the virus.
In a disease outbreak update, the WHO said the new confirmed
case of MERS in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was in a
59-year-old woman, the wife of a man previously confirmed as
being infected. Although she has no adverse symptoms, she is in
hospital in isolation, it said.
Dutch and Qatari scientists published research earlier this
month that proved for the first time that MERS can also infect
camels - strengthening suspicions that these animals, often used
in the region for meat, milk, transport and racing, may be a
source of the human outbreak.
The WHO says people at high risk of severe disease due to
MERS should "avoid close contact with animals when visiting
farms or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially
For the general public it advises normal hygiene steps such
as hand washing before and after touching animals, avoiding
contact with sick animals and good food hygiene practices.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Janet Lawrence)