GENEVA (Reuters) - Three Saudi hospitals have reported outbreaks of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) since April 21, with 12 people catching the potentially deadly disease from infected patients who later died, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.
The hospitals were in the capital Riyadh, in Bisha city, and in Wadi al-Dawasir in Riyadh province, the same town that reported a MERS hospital outbreak in April, although the WHO did not say if the new outbreak was related to that.
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.
The WHO said two men in the United Arab Emirates and one man in Qatar also caught the disease last month after contact with camels, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1,980 since September 2012, with at least 699 deaths.
Most of the known human-to-human transmission has occurred in healthcare settings, and the WHO has previously said hospitals and medical workers should take stringent precautions as standard to stop the disease spreading.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who steps down on June 30, has criticised Saudi Arabia for allowing MERS to spread in its hospitals, and the WHO has suggested developing a vaccine for camels may be part of the solution.
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.
Although most cases have occured in Saudi Arabia, a man who had travelled in the Gulf triggered a major outbreak in South Korea in mid-2015, causing 186 cases within two months.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland