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Middle East

MERS fears prompt ER closure at Saudi hospital

Saudi medical staff leave the emergency department at a hospital in the center of the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: The main public hospital in the Saudi city of Jeddah has closed its emergency room after a rise in cases of the MERS virus among medical staff, medics said Tuesday.

A Jeddah paramedic was among two more people Saudi health authorities reported on Sunday had died from the SARS-like disease, bringing the nationwide death toll to 66.

On Monday, the health ministry reported four more MERS cases in Jeddah, two of them among health workers, prompting authorities to close the emergency department at the city's King Fahd Hospital.

A medical source told AFP it was a "precautionary measure" and the Sabq.org news website reported that patients were being transferred to other hospitals in the city.

But the move caused widespread public concern in the city, fuelled by rumours on social networks.

"I'm afraid to send my children to school," said Jeddah resident Bassem Ben Ali, 33.

The total number of cases in Saudi Arabia has reached 175 since Middle East Respiratory Syndrome first appeared in the kingdom in September 2012.

The MERS virus is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

Experts are still struggling to understand the disease, for which there is no known vaccine.

A study has said the virus has been "extraordinarily common" in camels for at least 20 years, and may have been passed directly from the animals to humans.

The World Health Organisation said at the end of March that it had been told of 206 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection worldwide, of which 86 had been fatal.

 

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