Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia warns pilgrims to wear masks to stop spread of virus

By Ben Brumfield and Yousuf Basil, CNN
updated 9:00 PM EDT, Sun July 14, 2013
Saudi policemen, wearing protective masks against swine flu, stand guard near the holy city of Mecca on November 28, 2009.
Saudi policemen, wearing protective masks against swine flu, stand guard near the holy city of Mecca on November 28, 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Saudi Arabia is preparing for an onslaught of religious pilgrims
  • The Health Ministry wants to prevent the spread of the new respiratory disease, MERS
  • MERS kills more than half the people it is known to infect
  • But it is unlikely to become a pandemic, health officials say

(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia is asking pilgrims to cover their mouths with a mask while in crowded places -- or risk spreading a deadly disease.

In four months, the holy city of Mecca opens its doors to millions of Muslim pilgrims for the annual Hajj, with multitudes congregating at the same holy places at the same time. Others visit during the holy month of Ramadan, which started this week.

It's a perfect scenario for catching and spreading the relatively new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has befallen Saudi Arabia almost exclusively, state-run SPA news agency reports.

What is the Hajj?

The ailment, caused by the coronavirus, wreaks havoc on the respiratory systems of those who contract it.

2012: Hajj - The pilgrimage to Mecca
2012: How to make the best of the Hajj

More than half of those known to have caught it have died. Of 81 infected worldwide, 45 have died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Of the total cases, 66 were in Saudi Arabia, where 38 people succumbed to it.

It mainly affects older men, the CDC says. So far, there is little to indicate that it could become the kind of deadly pandemic SARS was, though it is caused by a related virus.

All Muslims must undertake the journey at least once in their lifetime, and the government is telling them to add some preventative health requirements to their spiritual rituals.

Mecca redevelopment sparks heritage concerns

Most of them are common sense recipes for stopping the spread of the common cold:

Wash hands, especially after coughing and sneezing; throw used tissues in the trash; don't touch your eyes, nose and mouth while in public places.

And the Health Ministry wants people to wear a surgical mask while in crowded locations.

People with challenged immune systems should avoid travel to the birthplace of Islam for now, the ministry said. This includes people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and those infected with HIV.

Also, while in Saudi Arabia, the Health Ministry requests, please, don't sneeze in other people's faces.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:34 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
This is how the two U.S. aid workers infected with Ebola will be evacuated from west Africa.
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
While aspects of the fighting in Gaza resemble earlier clashes, this time feels different, writes military analyst Rick Francona.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
How did al Qaeda recruit a former Florida high school footballer?
updated 7:08 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Flowers, a teddy bear and the smells of jet fuel and death haunt the MH17 crash site.
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
If India and the U.S. were Facebook friends, the relationship between them would be "complicated." Can John Kerry's visit change that?
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Take a look inside Airbus' new -- and surprisingly quiet -- A350XWB.
updated 11:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
What're you doing after work today? If you lived in these cities you could head to the BEACH!
ADVERTISEMENT