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MERS-CoV: Hajj pilgrims urged to postpone trip

Muslim pilgrims have been advised to postpone the annual trip to Mecca because of ongoing cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrove coronavirus (MERS-CoV). 

Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca (also known as Makka) in Saudi Arabia, which will happen during early October 2014. And Umrah is a shorter, non-compulsory pilgrimage than can be performed at any time. 

As of 9 June 2013, there have been over 700 cases of MERS-Cov, including 287 deaths in Saudi Arabia, mainly among residents.  

Although the risk to travellers is considered to be low, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has advised elderly people, pregnant women, children and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart diseases to postpone the pilgrimage. 

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at Public Health England (PHE) said: "The Hajj is the largest annual international gathering with more than two million Muslims travelling from around the world to make the pilgrimage which also includes thousands from the UK. A large population confined to one area has historically increased the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, in particular respiratory infections, which is why it is important to get the relevant vaccinations." 

Professor Nick Phin, head of respiratory diseases at PHE said: "There is growing evidence of the possible role of camels in transmitting MERS-CoV to humans. We advise travellers, particularly those with underlying or chronic medical conditions, to avoid contact with camels in the Middle East and practise good hand and respiratory hygiene to reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses.

"Pilgrims returning from Hajj and Umrah with flu-like symptoms including fever and cough, or shortness of breath within 14 days of being in the Middle East, should contact their GP without delay and inform them of their travel."

MERS-CoV is a new type of coronavirus, first identified in a Middle Eastern citizen in 2012. Although cases continue to be reported from the Middle East, no new cases of MERS have been detected in the UK since the cases linked to the Middle East in February 2013.