Saudi Arabia has reported that the number of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases has doubled in April with 26 new cases reported on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Thursday’s announcement comes as reports of the first case of the deadly disease was reported in Egypt after a 27-year-old Egyptian man contracted MERS after visiting his uncle – who died of the virus – in Saudi Arabia.
International concern about the infection is growing with millions of pilgrims set to visit the kingdom during the fasting month of Ramadan in July, followed by millions more for the annual Islamic Haj pilgrimage in October.
The new cases have taken the total number of confirmed infections in Saudi Arabia to 371, a jump of 89 percent during April. Most of the new infections last month came in an outbreak in three hospitals in Jeddah.
Of the people who caught the disease in Saudi Arabia, 107 have died since it was identified two years ago.
While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the disease, which is from the same family as the SARS virus, is difficult to pass between humans, most of the cases reported in Saudi Arabia have been transmitted between people rather than from animals.
But health experts believe that animals, most likely camels, were the initial source of the illness.
On Tuesday acting health minister Adel Fakeih said Saudis should avoid close contact with camels, or consuming their raw milk or meat.
Traders and others at Riyadh’s camel market on Monday said they had not been officially notified of any link between MERS and camels or of any precautionary measures to be taken, according to Reuters.
Saudi Arabia and the WHO have advised very old people, children and those suffering long-term disease to delay their Haj this year because of MERS, but have stopped short of imposing other restrictions such as on visa numbers.
MERS cases have also arisen in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Tunisia as well as several countries in Europe. [Reuters]