8:02 pm - Thursday November 5, 2015

Saudi Mers death toll rises to 126

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Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s death toll from Mers has risen by five to 126 fatalities since the mystery respiratory virus first appeared in the kingdom in 2012, the health ministry said Friday.

Two men, aged 47 and 60, died in the western city of Madinah on Wednesday, an 84-year-old man died in Makkah and a fourth died in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

All three cities are closely associated with the annual Haj pilgrimage, with commercial capital Jeddah being the main point of entry for pilgrims from overseas.

The fifth person to die was a woman, who succumbed in the capital Riyadh, the ministry’s website reported.

It added that the total number of infections from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (Mers-CoV) in the Gulf nation was now 463. Of the new Saudi cases, 11 were in Jeddah, 14 in the capital Riyadh, one in Najran and one in Taif. There were four new cases in Madinah and one in Makkah, cities that receive large influxes of pilgrims from around the world.

Ten of them had been in contact with people who had previously been diagnosed as having Mers, the ministry said.

Mers cases have also been reported in the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and even the United States, with most involving people who had travelled to Saudi Arabia or worked there, often as medical staff.

The great majority of deaths from the virus have been in Saudi Arabia, however.

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 per cent already in May.

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.

Mers is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the Sars virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine per cent of whom died.

There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments for Mers, a disease with a mortality rate of more than 40 per cent that experts are still struggling to understand.

Like Sars, Mers appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering from a temperature, coughing and breathing difficulties.

But it differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure.

Research has suggested that camels are the likely source of the virus.

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