Abu Dhabi: Mers, or the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, has killed 10 people and infected 68 in the UAE since March last year, Abdul Rahman Mohammad Al Owais, Minister of Health, told the Federal National Council on Tuesday.

Al Owais said the ministry was in constant contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international agencies.

“The Health Ministry continues surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections and carefully reviews any unusual patterns,” Al Owais said, allaying concerns about the virus, which can cause potentially fatal respiratory illness, citing the scare of bird flu, “which only offered fortunes to pharmaceutical and vaccine companies”.

The Health Minister said globally Mers has infected 682 people and killed 216 since the first case was diagnosed in June 2012. In Saudi Arabia, the health minister said on Tuesday that a review has found 688 confirmed infections and 282 deaths from Mers since 2012. There have been 330 cases, including 59 deaths, worldwide since the end of March, according to WHO statistics released on June 2.

Rashid Mohammad Al Shuraiqi, a member from Ras Al Khaimah, put a question to the Minister of Health concerning efforts being made to prevent the spread of Mers in the UAE.

All the cases were found in Abu Dhabi, WHO said, as it announced the potentially fatal virus has now spread to Yemen.

The patients range in age from four to 73, with a median age of 41, and 72 per cent of them are male.

More than two‐thirds affected were health-care workers, including paramedics, but only one became seriously ill.

Twenty‐eight cases of Mers were identified in a hospital cluster in Al Ain City, the first of which was a 45‐year‐old male shopkeeper who died in the UAE on April 10. It was reported that he hadn’t recently travelled or had any contact with animals, and it’s not currently known how he caught it.

A further 27 cases were health-care workers or had had contact with infected people; the remaining five cases, among them a mother and daughter and an unrelated four‐year-old child whose mother had recently returned from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Affected Arab countries include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Jordan and now Yemen, as well as Egypt and Tunisia.

The virus has infected 571 people and killed 189 in Saudi Arabia, the biggest tally in the world.

It has also been reported in Europe (the UK, France, Germany, Greece Italy and the Netherlands); the Philippines, Malaysia; and the USA.

Last month, WHO acknowledged growing concern about the virus but said it was not a global health emergency because there was no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.