Saudi health officials ask pilgrims to wear masks to quell virus

July 13, 2013 at 12:18 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, July 13 (UPI) -- Muslims on religious visits to Saudi holy places have been asked to cover their mouths with masks to prevent the spread of a respiratory virus, officials said.

The request, at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, was issued as Saudi health officials try to contain a new strain of coronavirus named the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, CNN reported Saturday.

The disease, which has affected Saudi Arabia almost exclusively, has killed 45 of the 81 people worldwide infected by it, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions said Friday. The virus primarily affects older men.

MERS appeared on the Arabian Peninsula in September 2012 and 38 of the deaths have occurred in Saudi Arabia, the BBC reported.

Saudi health officials have asked pilgrims to wear masks in crowded place in anticipation of the Hajj in October, during which millions of people typically visit holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

Some Muslims also visit the sites during Ramadan.

While a virus related to SARS causes MERS, officials are not concerned it could reach the pandemic levels of its deadly relative.

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