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Hundreds Infected As MERS Epidemic Spreads In Saudi Arabia

At least 449 people have been infected in the Middle Eastern kingdom. The SARS-like pandemic has now spread to Europe and the United States.

Posted on May 8, 2014, at 1:40 p.m. ET

Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday that 18 more people had contracted the form of coronavirus known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

Handout . / Reuters / Reuters

The disease, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms and can be fatal if left untreated, now affects 449 people in Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, at least 121 people have died of the disease in Saudi Arabia since it was first identified two years ago, which makes for a high mortality rate of about 29%.

Doctors across the world are worried about MERS because it belongs to the same family of infectious diseases as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed some 800 people in China in the early 2000s.

Coronaviruses generally originate in another animal species — known as its "reservoir" — before migrating to humans. SARS, for example, is thought to have originated in bats. Scientists are still looking for MERS' reservoir, although camels are suspected.

So far, cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Oman, Tunisia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, and the United States.

The virus has spread to the United States, but so far only one patient has been reported — and is doing better.

View this video on YouTube / Via Associated Press

Officials from Community Hospital in Munster, Ind., discuss the progress of the first U.S. MERS patient, a health care worker who had spent time in Saudi Arabia.