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A rash of fatalities from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been reported in Saudi Arabia, where 19 people have died after contracting the disease this week alone.

Including the recent spate, the kingdom’s Health Ministry has recorded 502 fatalities and 1,171 reported cases since June 2012 when the virus first appeared, reports Agence France-Presse.

The surge in infections comes as Saudi Arabia prepares to host about 2 million Muslims who will travel to the country for the annual hajj pilgrimage next month.

Health authorities shut down the emergency ward in one of the capital Riyadh’s largest hospitals last week, after at least 46 people, including hospital staff, contracted the disease.

MERS is viral respiratory infection that causes fever, coughs and breathing difficulties. It is caused by a coronavirus and is considered more deadly but less contagious than its cousin Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which spread globally in 2002 at an eventual cost of more than 8,000 lives.


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