RIYADH (REUTERS) - Saudi Arabia said late on Wednesday it had detected six new cases of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) in 24 hours, the biggest daily jump for months with officials blaming lax hospital procedures.
The recent surge in cases, now numbering 32 since the start of October, has been focused in Riyadh and the western city of Taif, but it remains far less extensive than an outbreak in April and May that infected hundreds.
Mers causes coughing, fever and sometimes pneumonia, killing around 40 per cent of its victims. The vast majority of confirmed cases worldwide have been found in Saudi Arabia, where 786 people have been infected, of whom 334 have died.
Two of the new cases announced by the health ministry were in medical personnel, adding to concerns about the standard of infection control procedures in medical facilities. Three different Taif hospitals have been affected.
Some of the people infected with Mers in Taif this month were being treated in one renal clinic in a hospital in the city, which authorities regard as being responsible for some of the transmissions, a senior Health Ministry official said.
"The secret here of success is not to prevent the cases to be introduced to the community... the success is to control the transmission within health facilities," Abdulaziz bin Saeed, undersecretary for public health told Reuters.
He added that medical personnel may have relaxed their infection control standards after the kingdom's last outbreak before the summer ebbed, but that the ministry had intervened to improve procedures in Taif hospitals.
The six new cases confirmed on Wednesday included three in Taif, where five others have fallen ill this month, two in Riyadh, where six others have been diagnosed with Mers since the start of October, and one in Hafr al-Batin, near Kuwait.
Cases of Mers have been found in other countries since the virus was identified in 2012, including in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, but most of them were in people who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia.
Scientists are not sure of the origin of the virus, but several studies have linked it to camels and some experts think it is being passed to humans through close physical contact or through the consumption of camel meat or camel milk.
The disease can then spread between people, and the largest previous outbreaks, including one in Jeddah in April and May that infected hundreds, have been linked to poor infection control procedures in hospitals.