Riyadh: To prevent spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) among pilgrims, the Saudi Health Ministry on Friday said it is considering to impose a ban on sacrificing camels as part of the Haj rituals this year, local media reported.
During the past 48 hours, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has reported three deaths and 15 new MERS cases, according to Arab News.
Ministry spokesman Khaled Al-Mirghalani told Arab News on Friday that his ministry is currently discussing with officials from the Makkah governorate and its municipality to ban the slaughter of camels during Haj rituals this year.
“Once the three parties agree, the ban will be formally announced in the coming weeks ahead of Haj,” he said.
However, he added that pilgrims who want to sacrifice camels during Haj can do so through organizations such as Islamic Development Bank and Al-Rajhi Banks since such schemes do not have a direct impact on pilgrims.
As part of the pilgrimage, each person must sacrifice or pay for part of the sacrifice of a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The cooked meat is then shared with the poor.
Camels are thought to harbor the virus, and health officials suspect that sporadic zoonotic transmission plays a role in fueling MERS-CoV transmission in the Middle East, especially in the Kingdom, the hardest-hit country.
About 90 percent of camels in the Gulf region are carriers of MERS-CoV and the virus can be transmitted over a one-meter distance, according to Abdullah Asiri, undersecretary for preventative health at the ministry.
Asiri said that 50 percent of camels in the Al-Ahsa region carry the virus. A person who comes into contact with infected camels can transmit the virus to family members without showing symptoms of the disease, he said.
Younger camels are most likely to transmit the disease to humans. Most viruses come from animals, mutate on their own, and are then transmitted to humans, he said.
Patients have been advised not to visit health facilities for minor ailments, or cases of the ordinary flu, but should only seek treatment if they suspect being infected by MERS after contact with animals.
Members of the public should visit primary health care centers because they are fully equipped to handle such cases.
He urged people to avoid contact with animals especially camels. If they must make contact, then they should wear masks and gloves, and refrain from rubbing their eyes or noses after touching them.