Three more people in Saudi Arabia have become infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus while one has died, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
The Geneva-based UN health agency also confirmed the first MERS case in Oman.
In a disease outbreak update, the agency said the four new cases bring the number of people struck worldwide by the MERS virus to 149, of which 63 have died.
Health authorities and scientists are still trying to figure out what kind of animal “reservoir’’ may be fuelling the MERS outbreak.
The virus, which is from the same family as the one which caused a deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002, is thought to have originated in bats.
One study published in August found strong evidence that it is widespread among dromedary camels in the Middle East.
MERS, which was unknown in humans until earlier this year, has also since then been reported in people in Tunisia, France, Germany, Italy and Britain.
The UN health agency said the patient in Oman is a 68-year-old man from Al Dahkliya region who became ill on Oct. 26.
“Investigations are currently ongoing to determine what exposures might be responsible for his infection,’’ it said.
The three patients in Saudi Arabia, one woman and two men, all had underlying medical conditions but all reported having had no contact with animals before falling ill.
One of the Saudi patients, however, was reported to have been in contact with another person infected with MERS.
The agency says MERS patients to date have most commonly had respiratory disease as their primary illness.
Diarrhoea is commonly reported among the patients and severe complications include kidney failure and acute breathing difficulties.