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Saudi Officials Find 'Extra' MERS Cases

Saudi Officials say a search of old records has turned up more than 100 unreported cases of MERS.
Image: A man wearing a mask looks on as he stands in front of camels at a camel market in the village of al-Thamama near Riyadh
A man wearing a mask looks on as he stands in front of camels at a camel market in the village of al-Thamama near Riyadh May 11, 2014.FAISAL AL NASSER / Reuters

Saudi officials said Tuesday they had found 113 more cases of the deadly MERS virus in old medical records — and more than 90 extra deaths.

Officials also announced they had fired the deputy health minister, Dr. Ziad Memish, who had been heading the kingdom’s MERS efforts.

It wasn’t immediately clear what either announcement meant, but U.S. and World Health Organization health experts have been trying to pressure Saudi Arabia to share more information about MERS, and to accept outside help in its efforts to fight the virus.

The new numbers bring the total Saudi toll from MERS to 282 deaths out of 688 cases, making for a 40 percent fatality rate.

“Acting Health Minister Adel Faqeeh has issued a decision today to relieve Deputy Health Minister Dr. Ziad Memish from his position,” the Saudi health ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

In April, Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al Rabeeah lost his job.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus first emerged in 2012, and while it’s spread to nearly two dozen countries, including the United States, the World Health Organization says it’s not a global health emergency yet.

WHO and other experts agree that studies are desperately needed on how much of the population is infected with MERS, especially in Saudi Arabia, where the vast majority of cases have been. MERS is a coronavirus, in the same family of viruses as many common cold viruses, and it’s possible that people can be infected and get symptoms no worse than a sniffle.

Two health care workers who had been working in Saudi hospitals carried the virus to the U.S. in recent weeks, but both have recovered and have not appeared to have infected anyone else. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention feared one man was infected by one of the travelers, but later said new tests showed he had not been.

WHO has been unusually frank about Saudi Arabia’s struggle to stop the virus, saying hospitals are not always properly implementing infection control measures.

Reuters contributed to this article.