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Saudi Arabia confirms jump in MERS cases UAE reports 12 new infections

RIYADH, April 20, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia confirmed 20 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Saturday and Sunday, adding up to 49 infections in six days, a sudden increase of a disease that kills about a third of the people infected and has no cure. MERS, a SARS-like novel coronavirus that emerged in Saudi Arabia two years ago, has infected 244 people in the kingdom, of whom 76 have died, the Health Ministry said on its website.

However, Health Minister Abdullah al- Rabia on Sunday told reporters there was no scientific evidence yet to justify ordering additional preventative measures such as travel restrictions. He said he did not know why there had been a surge of cases in Jeddah but said it might be part of a seasonal pattern since there was also a big rise in infections last April and May.

Another cluster of cases has been detected in the United Arab Emirates and a Malaysian who was recently in the Gulf has been confirmed as infected, his country said. MERS has no vaccine or anti-viral treatment, but international and Saudi health authorities say the disease, which originated in camels, does not transmit easily between people and may simply die out.

Health experts have warned, however, that MERS has the potential to mutate eventually. The number of officially confirmed Saudi cases has jumped suddenly over the past two weeks. Saudi authorities last week issued several statements aimed at reassuring the public that there was no immediate cause for concern at the latest outbreak and that it had not met international definitions of an epidemic. Rabia said the ministry had invited five European and North American companies to work with it in developing a vaccine and that some of the companies would soon visit the kingdom. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is expected to receive a surge of pilgrims in July during the faith’s annual fasting month of Ramadan, followed by millions more in early October for the Haj.

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