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Health

Saudi Arabia MERS death toll rises above 100

Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry has said the number of people killed by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome case has risen to 102. There has been a sharp rise on the death toll from the virus, which has now reached Egypt.

The Health Ministry in Riyadh on Sunday confirmed it had identified 16 more cases of the disease within a 24-hour period.

In a statement on its website late in the evening, the ministry reported there had been eight deaths - taking the number of people who have died from the disease, which first emerged two years ago, to 102.

Of those, a full 39 deaths have been this month. Among the latest deaths was a nine-month-old infant, the ministry said.

There have now been 339 confirmed cases of MERS to date. Saudi Arabia is the country that has been worst-hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus variant, which has killed nearly a third of all those who have contracted it.

The ministry said four members of the medical staff at a hospital in the northwestern town of Tabuk were among those now identified as having the disease.

Panic over the spread of the virus has led to the closure of a hospital in the western city of Jeddah, where some four doctors resigned earlier this month after having refused to treat MERS patients for fear of catching the infection.

The country's King Abdullah visited Jeddah on Thursday to reassure the public, in an effort to put an end to "exaggerated and false rumors" about MERS. Abdullah's son and National Guard Minister Prince Mitab said three specialized medical centers had been set up in Jeddah, Riyadh and Easter Province.

Anxiety ahead of haaj

MERS infections have been rising steadily just months ahead of the annual haaj pilgrimage by Muslims across the world to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which this year takes place in September.

The MERS virus is considered a deadlier cousin of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused some 800 deaths internationally in 2003. However, it is believed to be less easily transmitted.

There is no cure of vaccine for MERS, although not all those who contract the virus become ill.

Egypt on Saturday said it had recorded its first case of MERS after a patient - a 27-year-old civil engineer who had arrived from Saudi Arabia - tested positive for the disease.

rc/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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