Warning: Saudi Arabia prepares pilgrims for possible Coronavirus outbreak

(Photo : REUTERS/Stringer) A man, wearing a surgical mask as a precautionary measure against the novel coronavirus, walks near a hospital in Khobar city in Dammam May 21, 2013. Saudi Arabia has reported another case of infection in a concentrated outbreak of a new strain of a virus that emerged in the Middle East last year and spread into Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on May 18, 2013. In a disease outbreak update issued from its Geneva headquarters, the WHO said the latest patient is an 81-year-old woman with multiple medical conditions. She became ill on April 28 and is in a critical but stable condition. Worldwide, there have now been 41 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 20 deaths, since the new coronavirus was identified by scientists in September 2012.

The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as internal health organizations from Saudi Arabia have put the country on alert for a possible outbreak of the MERS coronavirus during the month of Ramadan, one of the holiest of times for Muslim pilgrims.

Both the WHO and the Saudi health ministry have requested that pilgrims visiting  holy sites within the country wear masks in crowded places to help prevent the spread of the MERS coronavirus.

The health ministry also posted a list of health requirements asking elderly people or those with chronic diseases to postpone their pilgrimage. So far, 38 people have died from the virus in Saudi Arabia.

Millions of Muslims from around the world are expected to visit Saudi Arabia this month, as well as participate in the Hajj in October. Traditionally, once a year, pilgrims make the journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and pray together before the Kaaba. Muslims also travel to the site at other times, as well as visiting the Masjid Al-Nabawi, or Mosque of the Prophet, in Medina.

This massive influx of pilgrims though has the potential to do more than encourage spiritual enlightenment--with that many more people in the area, it also has the potential to drastically and quickly spread MERS all over the area, if not the globe.

The MERS (Middle East respiratory-syndrome) coronavirus emerged in the Arabian peninsula in September 2012. The virus belongs to the same family of viruses as the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

So far the WHO has been able to confirm a total of 80 cases of infection, including 44 deaths worldwide due to MERS.



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