x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Six more cases in Saudi Arabia lift Mers infections to 136

Saudi Arabia accounts for the overwhelming majority of cases and deaths, raising concerns about this month’s Haj pilgrimage.

GENEVA // The global number of infections with the deadly Mers virus has risen to 136, after hard-hit Saudi Arabia confirmed six new cases, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.

Glenn Thomas, spokesman for the UN health agency, said it had been informed by Saudi authorities that the virus had been detected in three men and three women in Riyadh.

The virus, which appeared first in the kingdom last year, has led to the deaths of 58 people worldwide, 49 of them in Saudi Arabia, according to Saudi figures and the WHO.

Saudi Arabia accounts for the overwhelming majority of cases and deaths and that has raised concerns about this month’s Haj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

Haj is one of the largest gatherings in the world, and there are fears that pilgrims could carry the virus back to their homelands.

But Saudi authorities have said they are optimistic that Haj will pass off without outbreaks, given that faithful Muslims undertake lower-level pilgrimages at other times and there has been no mass spread of Mers.

Saudi Arabia has, however, urged the elderly and chronically ill to avoid the event.

Experts are struggling to understand Mers, for which there is still no vaccine.

It 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, and sowed economic chaos.

Like Sars, Mers is believed to have jumped from animals to humans. It shares the former’s flu-like symptoms, but differs by also causing kidney failure.

* Agence France-Presse