The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a less infectious cousin of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus and is believed to have originated in camels. Just ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage, deaths from the MERS coronavirus have surged in Saudi Arabia, with 19 fatalities recorded in a week, suggested the health ministry statistics.
The updated figures posted on the ministry's website revealed that a total of 502 people have died in the kingdom since the virus first appeared in 2012, including 19, all Saudis, since last Thursday, August 20, 2015. The website further added that the number of MERS infections has also surged to 1,171 cases.
A surge in MERS infections has forced health authorities to shut the emergency ward at a main hospital in Riyadh last week, after at least 46 people, including medical staff, contracted the disease. The symptoms of MERS can include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. There are no approved vaccines against MERS.