, GENEVA, June 17- A surge in cases of the deadly MERS virus has receded, but countries must maintain vigilance for the Muslim pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, worst hit by the disease, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.
“The upsurge in cases that began in April has now decreased and there is no evidence of sustained human to human transmission in communities,” WHO said in a statement.
However, “the situation continues to be of concern, especially given the anticipated increase in travel to Saudi Arabia related to Umrah, Ramadan and the Hajj,” the UN health agency said.
The communique was issued after a teleconference of health officials from seven countries where there have been cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
They were Algeria, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
MERS has killed 284 people in Saudi Arabia since it first emerged in April 2012, and hundreds more have been infected. Twenty-two countries have reported cases.
It is considered a deadlier but less transmissible cousin of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that appeared in Asia in 2003 and killed hundreds of people, mostly in China.
Close contact with camels has been fingered as the likely source of MERS in humans, according to a preliminary investigation by the WHO.
Millions of pilgrims visit holy sites in western Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj, the major Muslim pilgrimage that this year will take place in October, and for the Umrah, which is performed throughout the year.