The MERS virus is responsible for three more deaths in Saudi Arabia, according to the nation's health ministry, which made the announcement on Sunday.
In total, 47 individuals have died in the Middle Eastern kingdom from the SARS-like virus which first emerged last year and for which there is no vaccine.
Two of the fatalities occurred in the city of Medina. One was a 74-year-old man who had been in contact with an infected individual, while the second was a 56-year-old man who the health ministry described as a foreigner who worked in the health sector, the AFP reported
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The third death was that of a 53-year-old Saudi man in the city of Riyadh, who had reportedly suffered from chronic diseases most of his life.
In addition to the three deaths, the Saudi Arabian health ministry also announced five new cases of the MERS coronavirus, including an 18-year-old Saudi man and a three-year-old girl in the northeastern city of Hafr al-Baten. Both individuals had reportedly contracted the disease after being in contact with an infected person.
The other three new cases were all Saudi nationals as well, the AFP notes.
MERS, which stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome, is a viral respiratory illness that is similar, but not the same as SARS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the number of confirmed infections worldwide in the past year at 110, of which 52 have already died. Ninety-six of the 110 infections occurred in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the AFP reported.
The extremely high fatality rate makes MERS more deadly than SARS
, which emerged in Asia in 2003 and infected some 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.
Like SARS, MERS coronavirus is believed to have been brought on by human interaction with animals, possibly Egyptian tomb bats, according to scientists
A fecal sample from an Egyptian tomb bat revealed traces of the virus and, more importantly, the infected bat was found close to where the first case of MERS was reported.
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Symptoms of those infected by the MERS virus were similar to those exhibited by individuals suffering from severe acute respiratory illness, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.
To date there have been no cases reported in the United States.
On Sunday, scientists announced that two antiviral drugs used to successfully protect monkeys against MERS could potentially be used to save humans, The New York Times reported
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