POSTED: 6:41 p.m. HST, May 11, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 6:41 p.m. HST, May 11, 2014
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The government on Sunday warned those dealing with camels to take precautions as the number of infections in the kingdom from a respiratory illness linked to the animals rises further.
The Ministry of Agriculture urged people who come in contact with camels to "exercise caution and follow preventive measures," according to a report on the official Saudi Press Agency. It said scientific studies commissioned by the Health Ministry proved a connection between camels and the virus that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The guidance came after the country reported six more deaths from MERS on Saturday. A total of 139 people have died and 480 have been confirmed to have contracted the virus in Saudi Arabia since it was discovered in 2012.
MERS belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include both the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed some 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003.
MERS can cause symptoms including fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.
Scientists believe camels likely play a role in initial infections. The disease can then spread between people, but typically only when they are in close contact with one another, such as with infected patients and health-care workers.