Mers: Head of Jeddah hospital replaced
Jeddah, May 7, 2014
Saudi Arabia has replaced the head of Jeddah's King Fahd Hospital as it struggles with a growing number of deaths from the Sars-like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome ahead of an influx of Muslim pilgrims in July.
The Health Ministry said on its website that the move was part of its fight against the spread of the virus, and would "guarantee the immediate improvement of the medical care service" in the hospital, where a number of Mers patients are being treated.
Saudi Arabia has reported 431 cases of Mers since the disease was identified in 2012, of which 117 have been fatal, according to the latest figures posted on the ministry website.
The spread of new infections slowed during the winter, but there has been a sudden increase since last month, with many of the new cases recorded in Jeddah, the kingdom's second city.
Two deaths were reported on Tuesday, along with 10 new cases in Jeddah, in the capital Riyadh, in the western city of Taif and in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
The upsurge is of particular concern because of the influx of pilgrims from around the world expected in July during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Amid growing public disquiet at the spread of the disease, King Abdullah sacked his health minister on April 21.
The authorities have at times struggled to counter rumours swirling on social media that they have not been transparent about the spread of the disease and the effectiveness of the prevention measures implemented so far.
Mers is a coronavirus like Sars, which killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002.
Mers can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia and has no vaccine or anti-viral treatment.
Scientists say it does not transmit easily between people, although it could mutate, and that the most likely animal reservoir, from which new cases are becoming infected, is Saudi Arabia's population of camels.
Arab countries including Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Tunisia have all reported cases of Mers, as well as several countries in Europe.
Last week, the US confirmed its first case, a man who had been a health worker in Saudi Arabia. - Reuters