MERS alarm in Saudi Arabia heightens after 2 more deaths

Saudi Arabia's health ministry says two more patients who contracted a potentially fatal Middle East virus related to SARS have died as the kingdom detected 17 new cases of the disease.

17 new cases of MERS virus detected in Saudia Arabia

Passengers walk past the medical quarantine area showing information sheets for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus at the arrival section of Manila's International Airport last week. One expert says recent outbreaks of MERS in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that led to more than 20 infections, many among health-care workers, "have put us into uncharted territory." (Aaron Favila/Associated Press)

Saudi Arabia's health ministry says two more patients who contracted a potentially fatal Middle East virus related to SARS have died as the kingdom detected 17 new cases of the disease.

The ministry said on Tuesday that a chronically ill 73-year-old Saudi man died in Riyadh. The other victim, a 54-year-old Saudi man, died in Jeddah.

The deaths bring to at least 81 the number who died in the kingdom since September 2012. The 17 new cases of the virus were detected in four cities, bringing to 261 the number of people infected.

On Monday, King Abdullah sacked the country's health minister without giving a reason.

The kingdom is scrambling to contain the spread of the coronavirus related to SARS known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.