01:57 - Source: CNN
Saudi officials see spike in MERS virus

Story highlights

The number of deaths in the country is at 102

The reason for the sharp increase this month is not clear

The virus, discovered in September 2012, attacks the respiratory system

CNN  — 

The number of new cases of the Middle East respiratory symptom coronavirus spiked by 26 over the weekend, including 10 deaths, the Saudi Arabian Health Ministry said.

This brings the total number of known cases of MERS-CoV to 339 in Saudi Arabia, including 102 deaths, according to the ministry.

MERS-CoV was discovered in September 2012. Saudi Arabia has seen an alarming increase in confirmed cases this month, and health officials are stepping up efforts to combat the virus.

It is not clear why there was a sudden increase, said Dr. Abdullah Al-Asiri, assistant undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Health and a member of the Scientific Committee of Infectious Diseases.

“We have faced an increase in the number of cases around the same time last year at the end of winter,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying last week.

State media reported Monday that former Minister of Health Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah had stepped down after the sharp rise in cases.

Saudi officials have called on the World Health Organization and a group of medical experts to meet at the end of this month to discuss the status of the virus.

Ministry of Health spokesman Khalid Marghalani said recently a drug company would be arriving in Saudi Arabia to discuss the production of a vaccine to fight the virus.

MERS-CoV comes from the same group of viruses as the common cold and attacks the respiratory system, the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

Although many of the cases have occurred on the Arabian Peninsula, people have died of the infection elsewhere, including in European countries and Tunisia in North Africa. However, all of the people involved contracted the disease in the Middle East before being diagnosed. Limited human-to-human transmission of the disease has also occurred in other countries.

Health officials do not know exactly how the virus spreads, and they stress hygiene, such as diligent hand-washing, to limit its spread.

The WHO has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions but says member countries should monitor any unusual respiratory infection patterns in travelers to the Arabian Peninsula.

CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom and Leone Lakhani contributed to this report.