Iran has suffered its first death attributed to the Middle East respiratory virus, as a woman from the southeastern province of Kerman succumbed to the disease on Thursday, AFP reported.
The 53-year-old woman was one of two sisters reported as infected by the MERS coronavirus on Wednesday by Iranian authorities.
The virus, coupled with the patient's pre-existing high-blood pressure, proved too much for the patient's immune system, and despite the medical staff's efforts she passed away, Health Ministry official Mohammad Mehdi Gooya said.
The second sister is in good condition and was discharged from the hospital, he added.
Mehdi Shafiei, head of the Kerman disease prevention unit, said authorities suspect six other cases of MERS exist in the province, the Iranian Mehr news agency reported.
About 600 people have had the illness and about 175 people have died.
MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and SARS, which caused some 800 deaths in 2003. The disease causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia and reported cases have tripled in the past several weeks. The virus is moving out of the Arabian Peninsula as infected individuals travel from the region. Researchers believe the source for the virus is in the vast camel herds of Saudi Arabia, and nearly all confirmed MERS cases were of people who have recently been to the kingdom or its neighbors.
The approaching month of Ramadan is raising concerns of the spread of the virus, as the numbers of Muslims making the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia's holy sites are expected to rise.
Gooya said all Iranian pilgrims, nearly 900,000 annually according to AFP, would be examined upon their return and that those exhibiting MERS symptoms would be placed in quarantine.
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