Saudi Arabia has warned its citizens to wear masks and gloves when dealing with camels as health experts said the animal was the likely source of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.

The Saudi Agriculture Ministry urged people who come in contact with camels to "exercise caution and follow preventive measures," after scientific studies commissioned by the Health Ministry proved a connection between camels and the virus that causes MERS.

"It is advisable to wear protective gloves, especially when dealing with births or sick or dead [camels]," state news agency SPA reported on Sunday.

The link between human cases and camels has been the subject of extensive study among scientists abroad, but has been relatively absent from much of the official domestic debate.

Saudi Arabia also reported three deaths from MERS on Sunday, raising the death toll from the disease since it first appeared in the country in 2012 to 142.

The Health Ministry said in a statement on its website it had identified three new cases of the coronavirus, pushing the total number of infections to 483.

The rate of infection in Saudi Arabia has surged in recent weeks, with the total number nearly doubling in April and rising by a further 25 percent in May.

The recent increase has raised concerns over the influx of visitors expected to convene in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in July during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and again during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in October.

The disease has spread across the region, with MERS cases reported in the Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar, Malaysia, Italy, Britain and the United States.

MERS is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

Source: Agencies