DOHA Saudi Arabia said on Friday that seven more people infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) had died and identified 10 new cases of the virus, pushing the total number of infections in the country to 473.
The additional seven deaths on Friday brings the total death toll from the virus in Saudi Arabia to 133 since it was identified two years ago, according to the kingdom's health ministry.
The rate of infection in Saudi Arabia has surged in recent weeks after big outbreaks associated with hospitals in Jeddah and Riyadh. The total number of infections nearly doubled in April and has risen by a further 25 percent already in May.
The recent upsurge is of particular concern because of the influx of pilgrims from around the world expected in July during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The ministry said on its website that the latest seven deaths were of previously reported cases.
Of the new cases, five were in the capital Riyadh, four in Jeddah and one in Taif, it said on the website. It added that only one of the new cases was in intensive care.
Five other cases had recovered and were discharged from hospitals, it said.
MERS is a coronavirus like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed around 800 people worldwide after emerging in China in 2002. It can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, and there is no vaccine or anti-viral treatment against it.
The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday the hospital outbreaks had been partly due to "breaches" in recommended infection prevention and control measures, but added that there was no evidence of a change in the virus's ability to spread.
Scientists around the world have been searching for the animal source, or reservoir, of MERS virus infections ever since the first human cases were confirmed in September 2012.
(Reporting by Amena Bakr, Editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)