LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Southern California doctors and health officials will be on the lookout for Muslim pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia with flu-like symptoms in the wake of a reported outbreak of a SARS-like virus in the Middle East, according to reports.

L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding told the Los Angeles Times severe coughs or other similar symptoms could signal the arrival of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, to the Southland.

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KNX 1070’s Megan Goldsby reports while MERS-CoV has so far only been reported in the Mideast and Europe, doctors and emergency departments will be on the lookout for suspicious coughs and fevers.

“We have procedures in place to get to the state lab any specimens that we think might be a problem,” Fielding said. “We don’t have any specific treatment, so it’s really important that we remain vigilant.”

Fielding first alerted Angelenos to the virus back in May (PDF), at which time no cases were reported in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, as of Sept. 30, there were no reported cases of MERS in the United States. However, a note on the CDC website warns the agency’s information may be outdated due to the partial government shutdown.

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At least 136 people have been infected by the MERS virus worldwide, with at least 58 of those victims killed from respiratory distress and organ failure since the virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported.

Out of the total number of people infected with the virus, which health officials warned is predominantly spread by close contact, Saudi Arabia was listed as the place of origin in 108 infected cases and 47 of all MERS-related deaths, according to WHO.

Providing the type of environment in which a virus can spread efficiently, the pilgrimage known as the hajj — which Muslim men are required to make at least once in their lifetime — typically draws more than 10,000 American Muslims in hot and crowded conditions.

Symptoms commonly linked to the MERS coronavirus include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, and fever.

“There’s no antibiotic or antiviral that we know that is going to be very effective against this,” Fielding said.

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