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Study: Deadly MERS Coronavirus Swept Through Hospitals

Pixland/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A closer look at the largest cluster of MERS cases is giving researchers a glimpse at how the virus might spread.

The cluster, which emerged in Saudi Arabia in April 2013, involved 23 people, 21 of whom contracted the virus as hospital patients in the kingdom’s eastern province, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The remaining two cases were health care workers at the hospitals.

Symptoms of the virus ranged from fever, cough and shortness of breath to gastrointestinal problems, according to the study, which identified intensive care units, hemodialysis units and inpatient wards as the three main areas of person-to-person transmission.  How the virus spreads, however -- whether it be through direct contact or respiratory droplets -- remains unclear.

As of June 12, 15 of the patients had died, six had recovered and two remained hospitalized, according to the study.

The toll of the virus continues to rise in Saudi Arabia, with three new cases and four more deaths reported over the weekend.

ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, said studies were “critically important” in understanding how best to control the virus.

“This study represents the collaboration of people from many different countries -- that is great to see,” said Besser, who served as acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the H1N1 outbreak.  “Hopefully, as investigations continue, scientists will learn how this infection is spreading in the community.  Only then can we really talk about overall prevention.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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