Saudi Arabia has reported 18 new cases of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) on Wednesday, adding to the total number of infections to 449.
Four more patients died from the infection, pushing the total number of deaths to 121 in the country. The King Fahd Hospital head was also dismissed by Saudi Arabia's health minister because MERS cases in the hospital staff have further increased.
The infection rate in the country surged in the past weeks after outbreaks in Riyadh and Jeddah hospitals. The total number of infected patients almost doubled in April, rising further to 21 percent in May. Saudi Arabia reported over 250 cases in March 22 and it now has 421 reported cases to date.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that hospital outbreaks could partly be due to breaches in the recommended control and prevention measures. The agency also said there is no evidence that the virus' ability to spread had changed.
Saudi Arabia's health minister Adel Fakieh launched an awareness program for the general public to help prevent further spread of the infection. The campaign provided some guidelines, saying boiled camel milk intake is allowed and that people should eat only the animal's well-cooked meat. The public is asked not to eat camel meat raw because MERS is a camel disease that has been transmitted to humans.
Fakieh explained that the dismissal of King Fahd Hospital's head came only after the inspection of the hospital's emergency room.
"The new team will immediately take up its duties," Fakieh said. "The ministry will take all decisive measures to achieve its goals in preserving the health of members of society."
Virologists from Austria found that the MERS viruses in camels and humans in the same region are almost identical in genes. The study showed that the levels of MERS were particularly high in the camel's eyes and nose and people are likely to get the infection through contact with these areas especially its nasal discharge.
U.S. health authorities announced the first case of MERS in the country, saying a health care professional from Saudi Arabia is in quarantine in Indiana after being admitted two weeks ago. MERS is closely associated with the SARS virus from China that killed about 88 people in 2002 and 2003 worldwide.