Saudi officials expand labs to track deadly virus

May 16, 2013, 2:02 PM EDT
A Saudi woman and foreigners are seen at the entrance of a hospital in the center of the capital Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 14, 2013.
AFP/Getty Images/Fayez Nureldine

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia says it has dedicated nine additional laboratories to help investigators track a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS that appears to be centered in the kingdom.

Thursday's Health Ministry announcement follows its report that two health care workers became ill this month after being exposed to patients with the virus. Experts are closely studying whether it can spread easily from person to person.

Since September 2012, the World Health Organization has been informed of 40 confirmed cases of the virus, mostly in Saudi Arabia but also in Europe and Jordan. At least 20 people have died, including 15 reportedly in Saudi Arabia.

The virus has been compared to SARS, a pneumonia that surfaced in China in late 2002 and killed at least 774 people worldwide.