A man wearing a mask with camels at a camel market in the village of al-Thamama near Riyadh. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: The Mers virus has caused nearly 50 per cent more deaths in Saudi Arabia than has been officially reported, a review of medical data by Saudi health authorities shows.

The survey by the Ministry of Health revealed that 282 Saudis and non-Saudis have died in the kingdom from Mers since the disease was first detected in September 2012 — a 48 per cent increase over the previously announced toll of 190.

There also have been 688 confirmed cases of the disease instead of 575, according to the revised figures the ministry issued this week. Its statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, didn’t explain the discrepancy in figures or why it went unspotted.

Foreign experts have criticised Saudi authorities for a lack of transparency and slowness in sharing information about the outbreak. In September, Ziad Memish, the deputy minister for public health, cited respect for patient privacy as the reason for not disclosing more information about those infected with the virus.

Memish was dismissed on Monday by acting Health Minister Adel Fakieh, who assumed his post in April after his predecessor was dismissed amid a surge in the number of cases.

Mers, which originated in the kingdom, has been diagnosed in victims in more than 20 countries. Iran and Algeria each reported two victims of the virus last week, their first. The infected Algerian men went on pilgrimage to holy sites in Saudi Arabia, Algeria’s Ministry of Health said.

Fifty-three people are being treated for the disease in Saudi Arabia, and 533 people have recovered from the infection, the ministry said.

Saudi Arabia is setting up a command centre to direct efforts to curb the outbreak of Mers and other public-health threats. The centre will work with the World Health Organisation and the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, they said.

“It is not surprising that a tougher look at the Mers situation there led to the recognition of additional cases and deaths,” the CDC said. “We are not taking this as a sign the virus has become more dangerous.”