SAUDI ARABIA: More than 2 million Muslim pilgrims will arrive for the Hajj, despite threat of MERS virus

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The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is among the largest mass gatherings in the world. This year, it will take place from approximately October 13 to 18. Hajj draws about 3 million Muslims from around the world, and more than 11,000 Americans make the pilgrimage each year.

CDC  The mosque, the focal point of Islam, was teeming with visitors wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for hajj. Almost 2million people have so far arrived at the site in Saudi Arabia for the rites, which reach a peak on Monday – and another million are expected. And with temperatures hitting 36c (97f), many congregated in the cooler shadow of the building’s minarets. Because of the crowds, mass gatherings such as Hajj and Umrah are associated with unique health risks.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

MERS is a respiratory illness that has sickened a number of people in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Most people who got sick with MERS had severe illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. A majority of fatal cases of MERS have occurred among patients with underlying medical conditions.

Because of the risk of MERS, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has recommended that the following groups should postpone their plans for Hajj and Umrah this year:  The virus that causes MERS can spread from person to person through close contact, so pilgrims living and traveling in crowded conditions may be at risk. Pilgrims can help protect themselves from respiratory diseases by washing their hands often; not touching their mouth, nose, or eyes; and avoiding contact with sick people. 

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The MERS virus has so far claimed 58 lives worldwide, with the greatest number of deaths from the respiratory disease — 51 — in Saudi Arabia itself, including the latest two.

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