Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Health officials have reported that 14 new cases have been confirmed of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) bringing the total number of cases up to 313. Thus far, 92 people have died from the virus. In addition, the Health Minister confirmed that the newly confirmed cases are in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Mecca. The former two are the most populous cities in the nation. The latter is the Muslim “Holy City” and is the site of the annual pilgrimage during the month of Ramadan in July. The new cases of MERS in Mecca is raising concerns among health officials because of the sheer number of faithful Muslims who will descend on the city during Ramadan. Obviously, if the MERS virus is not eradicated by then the potential to spread will increase substantially.
Thus far, most of the cases have been reported in Jeddah which is a coastal city. Oddly enough, it is health care workers who are contracting the virus. MERS symptoms can eventually induce pneumonia, but initial symptoms are fever and coughing. MERS closely resembles Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which first broke out in China 12 years ago. At that time, the virus claimed the lives of 800 people globally. Speaking from Geneva, Switzerland, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed rising concern over the growing outbreak in Saudi Arabia. It is the most recent cases that are sparking new concerns over how well the problem is being contained.
King Abdullah fired the health minister and replaced him with a new one who presumably will better deal with the outbreak. The Saudi government has expressed a desire to collaborate with international vaccine makers to arrive at a faster solution. They have invited five such makers to visit Saudi Arabia, but the gesture is probably more symbolic in value than it is useful according to virology experts.