The increase in total confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory
Syndrome (MERS) to 688 from 575, and the rise in deaths from the
virus to 282 from 190, came in a review of data ordered by the
Health Ministry last month.
The sharp increase in deaths now attributed to MERS, which causes
coughing, fever and pneumonia in some, means the mortality rate from
the virus in Saudi Arabia is now 41 percent, instead of the 33
percent previously thought.
However, the ministry said that although the total number of
historical cases had risen, the rate of infection in the most recent
outbreak appeared to be slowing.
Of the total, 53 patients were still being treated, while 353 had
recovered, the statement said.
"While the review has resulted in higher total number of previously
unreported cases, we still see a decline in the number of new cases
reported over the past few weeks," Tariq Madani, head of the Health
Ministry's scientific advisory board, was quoted as saying in an
In Geneva, spokesman Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization
(WHO) said that it welcomed all efforts to gather, verify and share
information on MERS.
Asked about the higher case fatality rate, he said: “The important
thing is we are talking still about relatively small numbers in
comparison to the population and the number of cases that could be
The Health Ministry said it had put in place new measures to make
sure better data gathering, reporting and transparency were being
observed, including standardisation of testing and better guidelines
for labelling and storing samples.
On Monday, acting health minister Adel Fakieh announced he had
relieved deputy minister Ziad Memish from his post. Fakieh was
appointed in April after King Abdullah sacked his predecessor
Abdullah al-Rabeeah following a new MERS outbreak. [ID:nL6N0OK2LI]
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Saudi authorities, including Memish, had been criticised by some
international scientists for their handling of the crisis, including
what they saw as a lack of collaboration with specialist
laboratories offering to help investigate the outbreak.
"Clearly any backward look will push the total numbers up but that
does not signify any change in the virus, only previous
under-reporting," said Ian Jones, a virologist at Britain's
University of Reading.
"Infectious disease does not respect country, cultural or religious
boundaries, so absolute clarity and the adoption of best practice
for isolation and treatment are the most effective means of
minimising numbers until such time as the source and route of
infection are identified and avoided," he added.
The Health Ministry said on Sunday it had set up a new command and
control centre to tackle MERS and any future public health crisis
The new centre will work with the World Health Organization and the
Centre for Disease Control, it said.
(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London and by Stephanie
Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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