MERS Kills 10 in Saudi as Government Broadens Health Campaign
Published Friday, March 6, 2015
The MERS virus has killed 10 more people in Saudi Arabia over the past week, pushing the death toll above 400, as health officials broaden their campaign to halt its spread.
Saudi Arabia is the country worst-hit by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
The latest deaths occurred between February 27 and March 5, adding to a surge of cases that killed 30 people in February alone. Health ministry data show that six of those deaths were in Riyadh.
MERS is a respiratory disease that causes coughing, fever and breathing problems, and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. A total of 936 people have been infected with the disease since it was first identified in the kingdom in 2012, and 402 of them have died.
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.
On Wednesday the health ministry said it started a new phase of a public education campaign to help prevent the spread of the virus. It uses television, radio, print, social media and text messages with the theme "We can stop it."
Earlier efforts relied on media interviews and statements by health officials, and airports displayed posters about how to prevent the virus.
The intensified campaign comes after a mission by the United Nations World Health Organization and other agencies said "efforts to educate professionals and the public are urgently needed."
The 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.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized by WHO and others for moving too slowly to conduct the types of scientific study needed to pin down the source of the MERS virus and to establish how it infects people and passes from one person to another.
Many people sickened by the disease catch it while in hospital, or after contact with another case, and a few also report having direct contact with camels.
A surge in MERS cases typically occurs around this time of year, when there are more juvenile camels circulating, Abdul-Aziz bin Saeed, who heads the center coordinating the health ministry's response to MERS, warned in early February.
More than 20 countries have been affected by the virus but most cases have been linked to the Middle East.