Health officials in Italy reported the country's first case of MERS coronavirus in a man who had been travelling in Jordan.

The 45-year-old man was in good condition and was being monitored in isolation after being admitted to hospital in Tuscany with a high fever, cough and breathing difficulties, Italy's health ministry said in a statement.

The man had recently been in Jordan for 40 days, where one of his sons seemed to have a flu.

Earlier Friday, the World Health Organization said it's learned of a new case of MERS coronavirus in an eastern province of Saudi Arabia, raising the total number worldwide to 51, including Italy's. 

Saudi health officials told WHO about the case in al-Ahsa, agency spokesperson Glenn Thomas told reporters at a news conference in Geneva.

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Men wear masks as a precautionary measure against the MERS coronavirus in Khobar city in Saudi Arabia. The country's latest patient is a 61-year-old man with underlying medical conditions who became ill on May 20. (Reuters)

The latest three deaths were also in al-Ahsa, he said.

Saudi Arabia has been the most affected by the virus, with 39 cases and 25 deaths so far, according to data from WHO.

The virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Gulf to France, Britain and Germany. The WHO now calls the illness Middle East respiratory syndrome. 

Originally, the MERS coronavirus appears to have been transmitted somehow to humans in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who didn't catch the infection from other people.

The UN health agency said cases have also been reported in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Tunisia in North Africa. All of those cases had a connection to the Middle East.

In France, the UK and Tunisia, there has also been limited local spread among close contacts who had not been to the Middle East but had been in contact with a sick traveler recently returned from the region, the agency said.

With files from Reuters