RIYADH: Two more patients who had been infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus have died, the Ministry of Health said on Thursday.
The ministry said the new cases from the SARS-related coronavirus were reported in Riyadh, Jeddah and the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
The deaths bring to 83 the number of people who have died in the kingdom since contracting the virus in September 2012. The kingdom has recorded a total of 285 confirmed cases.
On Monday, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah removed the country’s health minister following a recent spike in MERS cases.
Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah was relieved of his post on Tuesday and replaced by Labor Minister Adel Fakeih in a concurrent capacity.
Saudi Arabia has seen a jump in MERS infections in recent weeks, with many of the new cases recorded in Jeddah.
Nonetheless, officials are saying the outbreak is not an epidemic.
Abdullah Mirghalani, assistant deputy Haj minister, had been quoted as saying the Health Ministry had not declared the situation an emergency.
On a positive note, a Saudi businessman claimed that Bioven, a vaccine developed by an American professor using enzymes derived from poisonous snakes, could be used to treat MERS.
Turki bin Manie, an agent for a foreign medical company, said he would discuss the possibility with health ministry officials.
MERS emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same family as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002.
MERS can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.
Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is relatively small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert.
• Additional reporting by the Associated Press