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Saudi Fears Rise over Mystery Virus

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A mystery virus known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) has claimed an increasing number of lives in Saudi Arabia, where it has spread to at least five cities. There is no known cure and fear of the condition is growing, as the BBC's Gulf correspondent Mark Lobel reports from Dubai.

Fouad spoke to me from his mobile phone while walking into a shopping centre in Jeddah. As has been his practice in recent weeks he was speaking through a surgical mask that covered his nose and mouth.

A doctor, in his 50s, Fouad said he saw fewer shoppers than usual around him, and that he felt very nervous.

"I wake up every morning and feel stuffy and start to panic - even a tickle in my throat sets me off. We're living on the edge. It's on your mind the whole time," he said.

Fouad has felt like that for several weeks. He is currently living alone, ever since his wife, sister and her young child left the country, afraid of catching the killer virus, Mers, which has cut a swathe through Saudi society.

The coronavirus is from the same family of viruses as the common cold and begins with a flu-like fever and cough but can lead to shortness of breath and pneumonia.

At least 126 people in the country have died after catching it, and more than 463 people have been infected since September 2012.   

Front line

Hardest hit have been hospital workers. Fouad knows personally three doctors and a nurse who have recently tested positive for Mers.

All are thought to have caught the coronavirus in hospitals where they work. Two of them were diagnosed when they fell seriously ill and were put on ventilators in ICU.