Three new cases of the deadly coronavirus have been reported in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 53 since the disease was first detected in September 2013. A total of 24 have died, bringing the global toll to 37, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that includes the notorious SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), and most were the result of tainted food or animal products — as in the case of SARS — or the introduction of diseased bird flu.

The ones caused by coronaviruses cause inflammation of the lining of the lungs, making it difficult for patients to breathe. The WHO said last month that cases continue to rise, but noted that the rate is slowing: The first cases — in April 2014 — were over 33 a week; by mid-December, it was over 4 a week. The current rate is 2.4 per week, “which could result in significant declines in the number of new cases,” said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at the University of Texas, in an interview last month.

“It’s generally cold out, you’re exposed to respiratory tract bacteria, and you develop an infection,” he said. Most people recover on their own, but if the disease remains untreated, it can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a condition with symptoms similar to those of SARS, but on a milder level and with a longer incubation period. A death rate of around 25 percent was reported for the current outbreak.

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MERS virus has yet to be identified, but it may be related to another virus