A recent surge in Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has officials in Saudi Arabia worried because of the upcoming Hajj in September. The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is required, at least once in their life, by all able adult Muslims.
In the past week, health officials have announced a total of 17 deaths from MERS in Saudi Arabia and are concerned for the estimated 2 million pilgrims coming to the Kingdom. MERS, a coronavirus that first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012, has been responsible for 502 deaths, the bulk of which have occurred in Saudi Arabia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring the outbreak in Saudi Arabia have located the source of the current surge in cases. The emergency room of a hospital in the capital, Riyadh City, has been closed down after a reported 46 people, including hospital staff, contracted the disease. The recent surge in cases have prompted health officials to intensify their efforts to control an outbreak. Professor Tariq Madani, Saudi Arabia’s scientific adviser on MERS, said:
We’ve done a lot of work to ensure Hajj goes smooth without any (MERS) cases. Being a virus transmissible from human to human is a big concern for Hajj. We have overcrowding and this is an excellent medium for a respiratory infection to spread.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), MERS affects the respiratory system, causing fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Between 30 and 40 percent of all cases of MERS cause death in the patient. Although how the disease is transmitted to humans is in question, the WHO recommends the following steps to minimize the risk of contracting the disease:
- Take precaution around people who may have been exposed to the disease.
- People with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons are considered high risk and they should avoid contact with animals (specifically camels) in the Middle East.
- Proper hygiene should be followed after handling animals.
- Avoid drinking camel milk or urine and eating under-cooked camel meat.
- If you believe you have been exposed to MERS, see a health care professional promptly.
Although the number of MERS cases has fallen since April and May of this year, WHO officials are working with health officials in Saudi Arabia to prevent a surge of cases during the influx of visitors to the country.