Bloomberg News

Coronavirus Strikes Health Workers in Saudi City Near Mecca

June 21, 2013

The deadly coronavirus that’s killed 38 people, mostly in Saudi Arabia, sickened four more in the world’s biggest oil exporter, including three health-care workers in the city of Taif, near Mecca.

The four patients have all recovered, Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said in a statement late yesterday. The ministry has tested 308 other samples over the past three days that were all negative for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, according to the statement.

The cases among female health-care workers in the Taif governate in the west of the country is at odds with the virus’s pattern so far, with most reported cases among middle-aged men with underlying health conditions who were receiving treatment in hospitals in the eastern region of al-Ahsa.

“It’s always concerning when health-care workers get infected, because they’re the entry point of emerging infections into the community,” said David Heymann, a former senior World Health Organization official who was in charge of the agency’s response to SARS, and is now head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, a London-based foreign policy research group.

The statement didn’t specify whether the health-care workers had contact with two other cases in Taif reported last week. Researchers monitoring the outbreak don’t know where the virus came from or how it’s spreading, hampering efforts to control it.

38 Deaths

The four cases disclosed yesterday bring the global tally of people infected with the virus to 68, when added to the 64 confirmed infections the Geneva-based WHO has reported since September. Fifty-three of the cases and 32 of the 38 deaths have been in Saudi Arabia. Other cases have been identified in France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Millions of visitors are expected in Mecca for the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage in October. The Saudi government this week asked visitors to postpone traveling to the country for Hajj, citing construction at the city’s Grand Mosque, according to Arab News.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at

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