Health experts say camels are the most likely animal
source of infection for the disease, which the Saudi Health Ministry
said on Sunday three more people had caught and four had died from.
First reported two years ago in Saudi Arabia, MERS is a coronavirus
like SARS, which originated in animals and killed around 800 people
worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002. There is no
vaccine or anti-viral treatment against it.
Around a third of the 483 diagnosed with MERS in Saudi Arabia have
Saudi Arabia is still the focal point of the outbreak, although
cases have been reported in other Middle Eastern countries, in
Europe and in the United States, which had its first confirmed case
The link between human cases and camels - which have a special place
in Saudi society - is the subject of extensive study among
scientists abroad. But it has been relatively absent from much of
the official domestic debate.
In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry advised people not to come
into contact with camels unless necessary and to wash hands before
and after if they did, as well as wearing face masks, state news
agency SPA said on Sunday.
"It is advisable to wear protective gloves, especially when dealing
with births or sick or dead (camels)," it said, according to SPA.
It also advised only eating cooked camel meat and to boil camel milk
before consuming it.
The statement urged people to report symptoms of MERS in camels
Only one of dozens of people working near an auction pen in Riyadh's
camel market on Sunday was wearing a mask, and there were no signs
of any official visit from the authorities, a Reuters photographer
Public disquiet in Saudi Arabia has grown amid rumors on social
media sites about a lack of transparency from officials about the
spread of the disease. The recent upsurge in reported cases is also
of wider concern, not least because of the influx of visitors from
around the world expected in July during the Muslim fasting month of
Ramadan, and again during the annual Haj pilgrimage in October.
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In a move the Health Ministry said was aimed at countering the
spread of the virus, Riyadh on Tuesday replaced the head of the King
Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, where many of the new cases have been
The World Health Organization said outbreaks of MERS in the
city's two main hospitals were partly due to breaches in its
recommended infection prevention and control measures.
After a five-day mission in Saudi Arabia, WHO also said there has
been no significant change in the virus' ability to spread.
Scientists say MERS does not transmit easily between people.
The Health Ministry first linked MERS with camels at a news
conference last month, but the Agriculture Ministry statement was
the first official notification for those working with the animals.
Camels provide a link to an important but vanishing nomadic
tradition in Saudi Arabia. They can be traded for thousands of
dollars and some are entered into races which are popular across the
Traders, breeders, vets and handlers at the main animal market in
Riyadh told Reuters last month authorities had given them no advice
or warning about the link between camels and MERS.
Saudi Arabia, a U.S.-ally and conservative absolute monarchy, allows
little public dissent and is often secretive about subjects seen as
(Editing by Angus McDowall and Sophie Hares)
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