Five more Saudis die from MERS, toll hits 157

Five more people die from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia, health officials say.

The Saudi Health Ministry announced on Wednesday that the new victims were three women, all over 60, who died in the capital Riyadh and two men, aged 56 and 57, who passed away in the port city of Jeddah.

The latest fatalities bring the kingdom’s death toll to 157 since MERS appeared in 2012.

The ministry also reported 16 new infections with the MERS virus, raising the total to 511.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the spread of the disease has become more serious, but does not yet constitute a global health emergency.

“The committee indicated that the seriousness of the situation had increased in terms of public health impact, but that there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission,” the WHO said, following the fifth meeting of its emergency committee.

The WHO also asked governments to make sure necessary measures were implemented in all health-care facilities in order to prevent and control the infection.

MERS is a cousin of SARS. The virus first emerged in the Middle East, and was discovered in September 2012 in a Qatari man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia.

The virus, which causes coughing, fever and pneumonia, does not appear to be as contagious as SARS, which killed some 800 people in a 2003 epidemic.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, which is worst hit by the virus, MERS has been reported in 16 other countries including the Persian Gulf states, France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and Britain.

While no travel restrictions have been announced, the WHO has urged health authorities across the world to maintain vigilance.