RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) In the past 24 hours, Saudi Arabia has reported four new deaths from a Middle East virus related to SARS and 36 more cases of infection, including a Turkish pilgrim in Mecca.

Officials are struggling to alleviate concerns that the virus is spreading amid a spike in infections over the past several weeks. Many of the infections reported Wednesday and Thursday are health workers.

Prince Miteb, the son of ruler King Abdullah and the head of the Saudi National Guard, was quoted in newspapers Thursday saying that the king arrived in the eastern city of Jiddah sooner than usual in order to be with the people there, amid a rise in infections. The king traditionally spends his summers in Jiddah, where the seaside weather is cooler than in the capital.

"Every Saudi citizen is more valuable to the king than himself," the prince was quoted as saying in the state-backed al-Watan newspaper.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include both the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed some 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003. MERS can cause symptoms such as fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

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