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Pilgrims warned on Middle East virus risk

Friday October 11th, 2013

Devout Muslims have been urged to set aside long-held ambitions to visit Mecca this autumn if they are not in full health.

Public health officials have issued the warning in the wake of the emergence of the deadly MERS-CoV virus in Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday it was revealed the virus, which causes a kind of pneumonia, has evolved in bats. It has caused outbreaks of infection in hospitals in Saudi Arabia and is known to be responsible for nearly 60 deaths.

Pilgrims are already setting off to arrive in Mecca for the Hajj next week. Some three million people from around the world are expected to converge on the sacred city of Islam.

But Saudi Arabia has warned people in poor health to stay away this year.

Dr Brian McCloskey, who is director of global health at Public Health England, said: "The potential for spread of infectious diseases associated with mass gatherings is well recognised.

"Hajj, the annual mass gathering of over three million Muslims from all over the world, presents challenges every year, but particularly this year as we are continuing to receive reports of cases of MERS in the region.”

Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy secretary general at the Muslim Council of Britain, backed the advice.

He said: “People who have decided to go on Hajj this year and are unwell before travelling are being advised not to travel. For those who have decided to travel it’s very important to follow health advice to reduce the risk of infection and to report to the health authorities if they become unwell.”

Tags: Asia | Flu & Viruses | Respiratory | Traveller Health | UK News

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