ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - At least 14 new cases of the Middle East respiratory symptom coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, have been detected in Saudi Arabia, the health ministry said in its latest statement about the condition.
Of those new cases, five of the patients died within 24 hours. This brings the total number of known cases to 313, including 92 deaths, the ministry said Friday.
Saudi health officials continue to step up efforts to combat the virus amid news of a spike in cases.
It is not clear why there was a sudden increase, said Dr. Abdullah Al-Asiri, assistant undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Health and a member of the Scientific Committee of Infectious Diseases.
"We have faced an increase in the number of cases around the same time last year at the end of winter," the Saudi Press Agency quotes him as saying.
State media reported Monday that former Minister of Health Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah had stepped down after the sharp rise in cases.
Saudi officials have called on the World Health Organization and a group of medical experts to meet at the end of this month to discuss the status of the virus.
Ministry of Health spokesman Khalid Marghalani said recently a drug company would be arriving in Saudi Arabia to discuss the production of a vaccine to fight the virus.
Last week, reports on social media said health care workers had refused to treat MERS-CoV patients. The government has since issued a statement saying ambulance services that refused would be suspended from work and investigated.
MERS-CoV was discovered in September 2012. The World Health Organization reported Sunday that 250 cases have been confirmed globally with 93 deaths worldwide.
A new cluster of the virus was reported in the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, as were the first cases in Greece and Malaysia.
MERS-CoV comes from the same group of viruses as the common cold and attacks the respiratory system, the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.
Although many of the cases have occurred on the Arabian Peninsula, people have died of the infection elsewhere, including in European countries and Tunisia in North Africa. However, all of the people involved contracted the disease in the Middle East before being diagnosed. Limited human-to-human transmission of the disease has also occurred in other countries.
Health officials do not know exactly how the virus spreads, and they stress hygiene, such as diligent hand-washing, to limit its spread.
The WHO has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions but says member countries should monitor any unusual respiratory infection patterns in travelers to the Arabian Peninsula.