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Coronavirus death toll reaches 32 in Saudi Arabia
Tuesday June 18, 2013 8:21 PM, IINA

Four more people have died and three more have fallen ill in Saudi Arabia from the new SARS-like coronavirus MERS-CoV, the Health Ministry said on its website on Monday.

The ministry said the four deaths were among previously registered cases. Two people died in Taif and the other two were pronounced dead in the Eastern Province, where most cases have been registered, said the statement.

One case of infection was in the Eastern Province and another in the capital Riyadh, while the third was of a two-year-old boy in Jeddah who was suffering from a "chronic" lung problem.

The ministry said the total number of MERS-CoV infections in the Kingdom now stood at 49, including the 32 fatalities.

The virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Gulf to France, Britain and Germany. The WHO has called it the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

It is a distant relative of the virus that triggered the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that swept the world in late 2003 and killed 775 people. The origin of the MERS virus is still unclear. So far, it appears to spread between people only when there is close, prolonged contact.

Scientists at the Erasmus medical center in the Dutch city of Rotterdam have pointed to bats as a natural source for the virus.

Health officials have expressed concern about the high proportion of deaths relative to cases, warning that MERS could spark a new global crisis if it mutates into a form that spreads more easily.

Last week Saudi Arabia distributed a genetic map of the virus, adding to the collection of publicly available evidence for researchers desperate to discover how it spreads.

The Saudi genetic sample posted by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information Center could help scientists discover how the virus has mutated, as well possibly as give clues about concocting an antidote.

The Saudi health ministry called the sequencing of the virus, based on samples taken from the country's eastern Al Ahsa governorate, "a positive step."


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