A foreigner has died of the MERS virus in Saudi Arabia, the country’s health ministry announced Saturday. Eight others, including five health workers, have also been recently infected with MERS, the ministry said.
The nationality of the 45-year-old man who died in the city of Jeddah has not been disclosed, the AFP reports. His death brings Saudi Arabia’s MERS-related fatality count to 68, making it the country most affected by the virus.
The origins of the MERS, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, has puzzled scientists, though a February study suggested camels may play a role in spreading it. MERS is related to but more deadly than the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus.
The World Health Organization said Friday that it knows of 212 confirmed cases of MERS. 88, or approximately 42%, of those patients have died reports Time.
But the Saudi health minister warned against assuming that camels were behind the virus, insisting in remarks published by Makkah daily on Monday that "one should not jump to conclusions."
"Saudi hospitals did not deal with a single case of infection that involved contact with the animal," he said. His statement appeared in contrast with an announcement by his ministry on November 11, which said that a camel became the first animal to test positive in "preliminary laboratory checks."The ministry said at the time that the camel was owned by a person diagnosed with the disease. A recent study said the virus has been "extraordinarily common" in camels for at least 20 years, and may have been passed directly from the animals to humans.