Saudi health authorities said Wednesday that 11 people in the western city of Jeddah have contracted the Middle East respiratory syndrome, resulting in two recent deaths and prompting officials to temporarily shutter the emergency unit at one of the city's biggest hospitals.
Among those who tested positive for MERS was an employee at Jeddah's King Fahd hospital. The potentially fatal disease is related to SARS and was first identified in 2012 in the Middle East, where most cases since have been diagnosed.
Officials at King Fahd hospital began referring incoming patients to other medical facilities on Tuesday so the emergency ward could be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, according to the kingdom's health ministry. Authorities said they expected to reopen the emergency ward at the hospital within 24 hours.
A nurse at another hospital in the city had also earlier contracted the virus.
The official Saudi Press agency reported on Wednesday that three people who tested positive for the disease remain hospitalized, and that two others had contracted it had died in Jeddah province.
The deaths bring to at least 66 the number of people who died in the kingdom, which is at the centre of the MERS outbreak.
Other Mideast countries that have reported cases of infection include Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A small number of cases have been diagnosed in Europe and North Africa.
Health authorities in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi reported a new case diagnosed there as well this week. The 59-year-old patient has a history of diabetes and had been on dialysis.
MERS belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include both the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed some 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003. It can cause symptoms such as fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.
MERS so far does not seem to spread as quickly between people as SARS did, but it does appear to be more deadly. Recent studies suggest that camels are the main source of the disease, according to the World Health Organization.