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Infectious Disease

Saudi Arabia’s health minister fired as country reports more deaths from MERS virus

Mideast Saudi Virus_Grus.jpg

Egyptian Muslim pilgrims, some wearing masks as a precaution against the Middle East respiratory syndrome, pray during the last rite of the annual hajj, near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File) (THE ASSOCIATED PRES2013)

Saudi Arabia's health ministry says two more patients who contracted a potentially fatal Middle East virus related to SARS have died as the kingdom detected 17 new cases of the disease.

The ministry said on Tuesday that a chronically ill 73-year-old Saudi man died in Riyadh. The other victim, a 54-year-old Saudi man, died in Jiddah.

The deaths bring to at least 81 the number who died in the kingdom since September 2012. The 17 new cases of the virus were detected in four cities, bringing to 261 the number of people infected.

On Monday, King Abdullah sacked the country's health minister without giving a reason.

The kingdom is scrambling to contain the spread of the coronavirus related to SARS known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.