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Jun 17, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

MERS Virus News Update: WHO Worried About Disease Spread With Upcoming Hajj Pilgrimages Expected in Mecca


A recent spike in Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases in Saudi Arabia is now subsiding, but health officials are worried about the upcoming hajj pilgrimages.

According to Reuters, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday it was concerned with the public health of those soon traveling to Saudi Arabia. After their sixth MERS emergency committee meeting, WHO said April's surge is finally subsiding.

"There have been significant efforts made to strengthen infection prevention and control measures," the group said in a statement. "The committee unanimously concluded that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not yet been met."

MERS has infected more than 800 people worldwide and killed about 315, but the majority of cases have come in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia specifically. Traveling mostly through visiting healthcare workers, MERS has found its way to the United States, Europe and Asia. Outside the Middle East, the virus does not seem to spreading quite as much, causing health officials to worry about the upcoming religious festivities for Umra, Ramadan and the hajj.

Everyone in the Muslim religion must make one pilgrimage to Mecca in their lifetime, if they are able. Still, millions of people travel there every year for the hajj and this year's is set to take place in October.

MERS was first discovered two years ago and scientists now believe they have pinpointed the cause of the disease's spread on camels. More studies are on the way to confirm exactly how the virus is spreading and to try and come up with a way to stop it.

"The Saudi government has made an extensive effort really to catch up on all the numbers and to provide them as quickly as possible," Keiji Fukada, WHO's assistant director general for health security, told reporters on a teleconference from Geneva. "I see a big amount of improvement taking place."

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