27 Die of MERS in February in Saudi Arabia (Al-Akhbar (Lebanon))

Ten more people in Saudi Arabia have died from MERS over the past week, health ministry figures showed on Friday, after an international mission urged extra measures to combat the virus.
Saudi Arabia is the country worst-hit by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
There is no cure or vaccine for MERS, which kills around 40 percent of its victims. The virus causes coughing, fever and breathing problems, and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. Initial scientific studies have linked it to camels and it is known to have infected close to a thousand people, killing some 360 of them.
First identified in humans in 2012, it is caused by a coronavirus, from the same family as the one that caused a deadly outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in China in 2003. There is no cure or vaccine for MERS, which kills around 40 percent of its victims.
The latest deaths occurred between February 20 and 26, adding to a surge of cases which has killed 27 people since the start of the month.
Doctor Abdulaziz bin Said, who heads the center coordinating the ministry’s response to MERS, warned in early February that a rise in cases typically occurs around this time of year, when there are more juvenile camels circulating.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited the preliminary results of studies indicating that people working with camels are at increased risk of infection from MERS-CoV, and young camels are particularly susceptible.
According to United Nations health experts, Saudi Arabia has not done enough to investigate and control a deadly new MERS virus that has killed hundreds of people there and remains in many ways a mystery.
Representatives of the WHO and other UN agencies who concluded a visit to the kingdom this week said there was an urgent need for greater understanding of the “animal/human interface,” including the “modes of infection and transmission.”
“There are so many aspects of the virus that are still unknown,” said Berhe Tekola, of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The mission urged “improving disease prevention, especially in health facilities that continue to experience avoidable infections.”
“When health workers are infected at work, this puts other healthcare workers at risk, but also can be a risk to all other patients who seek care for other health conditions,” the statement read.
“Understanding where the breach in these measures is occurring and taking the steps needed to fully implement infection prevention and control measures can put an end to these… infections,” it added.
Saudi Arabia has implemented a public education campaign about MERS but the statement said “efforts to educate professionals and the public are urgently needed,” highlighting “significant gaps in community engagement to fully understand routes of infection and the preventive steps that should be taken.”
According to health ministry figures, a total of 916 people have been infected with MERS since it was first identified in the kingdom in 2012. Of those, 392 have died.
More than 20 countries have been affected by the virus but most cases have been linked to the Middle East.Half of those who died were in their 70s or 80s.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)