GENEVA Ten people have caught the MERS coronavirus after an outbreak in a haemodialysis unit in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, without giving details of how the virus was able to spread within the hospital.
The potentially fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is thought to be carried by camels and comes from the same family as the coronavirus that caused China's deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.
Since MERS emerged in September 2012, 1,935 cases have been confirmed and there have been at least 690 related deaths, WHO said.
The latest outbreak, at Wadi al-Dawasir in Riyadh province, began at the end of February, when a 32-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man showed symptoms. They were hospitalized in the first few days of March, and both were confirmed to have MERS on March 4.
Contact tracing found eight symptomatic and two asymptomatic cases. Two of those infected were health workers, WHO said.
None of the patients in the outbreak has yet died, WHO said, although MERS generally kills about 36 percent of sufferers.
Most of the known human-to-human transmission has occurred in health care settings, and the WHO has said hospitals and medical workers should take stringent precautions as a standard measure to stop the disease spreading.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has previously criticized Saudi Arabia for allowing MERS to spread in its hospitals, but recently WHO has been reluctant to name and shame Saudi Arabia, the source of the vast majority of cases.
"The infection control measures and the monitoring in hospitals has to be stepped up, but also worldwide, because as we had cases last year and the year before of individual travelers reaching other countries and then spreading it from there," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said in Geneva.
Last year the failure to spot MERS in a patient in a vascular surgery ward in Saudi Arabia led to more than 49 other people being exposed to the disease.
In mid-2015, an outbreak in South Korea, started by a man who had traveled in the Gulf, caused 186 cases within two months.
Tackling the disease required a joint effort, with management of the disease in camels, perhaps with a vaccination, coupled with public health measures in hospitals, Lindmeier told reporters at a regular U.N. briefing.
"It has worked in many cases but individual cases come through and that shows that the protection measures are not enough," he said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Stephen Powell)