May 2014 – DISEASE – Health authorities in Saudi Arabia have reported three more fatalities from the MERS respiratory virus, taking the death toll in the world’s worst-hit country to 163. The health ministry website also revealed on Saturday that 520 cases have been recorded in the country since MERS appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It said three women died on Friday; a 48-year-old in Riyadh, a 67-year-old in Taif, and woman in Jeddah whose age was not disclosed. A spate of cases among staff at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah last month sparked public panic and the dismissal of its director and the health minister. Other nations including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, the UAE and the US have also recorded cases, mostly in people who had been to Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said its emergency committee, which includes global medical and policy experts, had flagged mounting concerns about the potentially fatal virus. The WHO called on countries to improve infection prevention and control, collect more data on MERS and to be vigilant in preventing it from spreading to vulnerable countries, notably in Africa.
But it has so far stopped short of declaring an international health emergency, which would have far-reaching implications such as travel and trade restrictions on affected countries. A WHO team carried out a five-day inspection visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month and pinpointed breaches in its recommended infection prevention measures as being partly responsible for the spike in hospital infections. MERS is considered a deadlier but less transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that appeared in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died. Like SARS, it appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering coughing, breathing difficulties and a temperature, but MERS can also causes rapid kidney failure. –Al Jazeera