Some 414 people in Saudi Arabia have fallen victim to the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus after a further 18 were diagnosed on Monday. One hundred and fifteen people have died so far as a result of the disease.
All of the new cases diagnosed in the past 48 hours were concentrated around the country’s capital, Riyadh, along with Jeddah – the main gateway to the Islamic holy city of Mecca, in the country’s west – and both holy cities of Mecca and Medina, according to the Saudi Health Ministry, which reported the cases on its website.
The disease is beginning to pose a severe concern to Saudi Arabia, which will host millions of foreign Muslim pilgrims during Ramadan in July. Millions more are expected in October for the Hajj pigrimage to Mecca. The journey must be completed at least once in every Muslim's lifetime, and is one of the 'Five Pillars' of the faith.
“From mid-March 2014, 111 people have tested positive in the Jeddah area; the biggest single surge in the MERS-CoV outbreak since the new virus was detected in April 2012. Thirty-one persons have died,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement released Friday.
Some 115 people have now died from the SARS-like virus, according to the health ministry. A large proportion of the deaths have been foreign health workers.
A further case was reported on Monday in Jordan. The man in question is reportedly related to someone previously diagnosed with MERS, according to Reuters.
Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia have been among other countries which have documented cases within their borders. Greece has also reported that one of its citizens – a permanent resident of Saudi Arabia – contracted the virus, and last week the US confirmed the case of a man who had recently been to Saudi Arabia.
On Monday, Egypt said it was looking into the possibility of whether a 60-year-old woman had died of MERS.
MERS has spread since it was initially discovered in Saudi Arabia two years ago; incidences have doubled since the beginning of April alone.
MERS has frequently been compared to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus which swept through Asia in 2003, infecting over 8,000 people and causing some 800 deaths worldwide. MERS is thought to be deadlier but more difficult to transmit. There is no vaccine or treatment for MERS at present.