The number of new cases of the Middle East coronavirus (MERS-CoV) appears to be rising sharply, according to figures compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since March 20, the WHO is reporting 40 new cases, compared with just 31 from Jan. 3 to March 20.
The new cases include a 10-person cluster involving healthcare workers in Abu Dhabi, but don't include a reported fatal case in Malaysia and an asymptomatic case in the Philippines.
The Abu Dhabi cluster was discovered by testing contacts of a 45-year-old man -- a paramedic with confirmed MERS who died there April 10, the WHO report said.
The cluster includes eight men and two women, most with mild or no illness. One man has pneumonia symptoms and all are in hospital under observation.
Meanwhile, a 54-year-old man from the Malaysian state of Johor has died after returning March 29 from an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, according to the country's health ministry.
He had developed fever, cough, and breathing difficulties, was admitted to the Hospital Sultanah Nora Ismail April 10, and died April 13 from pneumonia secondary to MERS-CoV, the ministry said in a statement.
In the Philippines, a nurse who had contact with the dead paramedic in Abu Dhabi tested positive for the virus but has no symptoms, according to news reports.
The man is reportedly in quarantine, as are four members of his family who met him at the airport in Manila as he returned from the United Arab Emirates.
In a Twitter message, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said the organization has not been officially notified of the two cases yet and has no details on them.
Health officials in the United Arab Emirates issued a statement to "reassure citizens and residents" that there's no cause for alarm about the 10-patient cluster.
The patients are all well and expected to clear with virus soon without treatment, according to the UAE health ministry and the Abu Dhabi health authority.
In addition, the patients are in isolation, the statement said, "and as such are not causing any risk to the public or other patients."
Since Sept. 12, 2012, the WHO has been officially notified of 238 cases of the virus, including 92 that have been fatal. Eight deaths have been reported since March 20, compared with 18 between Jan. 3 and March 20.
Of those cases, 194 have occurred in Saudi Arabia, according to the kingdom's health ministry.
Saudi health minister Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, MD, said in a statement that officials have seen a "limited increase of cases over the past few weeks."
"However," he said, "the rate of incidence is still low, and doesn't represent an epidemic."
Most patients present with respiratory disease as their primary illness, but diarrhea is common and severe complications include renal failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome with shock, the WHO says.
By Michael Smith,
North American Correspondent, MedPage Today
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