Camels now top suspects in spread of deadly MERS virus

Updated 12 August 2013
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Camels now top suspects in spread of deadly MERS virus

LONDON: Scientists have found an intriguing clue that suggests camels might somehow be involved in infecting people in the Middle East with the mysterious MERS virus.
Since the virus was first identified last September, there have been 94 illnesses, including 46 deaths, from MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, mostly in Saudi Arabia. Aside from several clusters where the virus has likely spread between people, experts have largely been stumped as to how patients got infected.
In a preliminary study published on Friday, European scientists found traces of antibodies against the MERS virus in dromedary, or one-humped, camels, but not the virus itself. Finding antibodies means the camels were at one point infected with MERS or a similar virus before fighting off the infection.
The antibodies were found in all 50 camel blood samples from Oman, compared to 15 of 105 samples from Spanish camels. Animals from Spain, the Netherlands and Chile were tested for comparison to those from Oman. No MERS antibodies were found in tests done in cows, sheep or goats.
“Finding the (MERS) virus is like finding a needle in a haystack, but finding the antibodies at least gives you an indication of where to look,” said Marion Koopmans, chief of virology at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the study’s senior author. “What this tells us is that there’s something circulating in camels that looks darned similar to MERS.”
The study was published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Koopmans expected results would be similar for other camel populations across the Middle East.
“We can’t say this proves camels are a reservoir for MERS but it does show there is something going on with camels that may be relevant for people,” Koopmans said.
Across the Middle East, camel products including milk are popular and the animals are often kept for racing and other purposes.
MERS is part of a family of coronaviruses that can cause the common cold as well as SARS, which sparked a global outbreak in 2003. Saudi Arabia health officials, in a letter this week to the New England Journal of Medicine, documented seven new infections of MERS in health workers, including some mild cases.
MERS is most closely related to a bat virus, leading some scientists to think bats are the natural source. Some experts think bats might be infecting other animals like camels with MERS before passing it to humans. MERS can cause symptoms including fever, cough, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure. There is no known treatment or cure.
Some experts said more testing of other animals in the Middle East was needed.
“Camels may be involved in (MERS) transmission but there could also be cows, goats, or something else involved,” said Vincent Munster, a virologist at the National Institutes of Health, who co-wrote an accompanying commentary.
There are ongoing tests on camel samples from elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as tests on dates, which some scientists think may be infected by bat excrement before being eaten by people.
The World Health Organization called the camel findings “an important development” but pointed out that many MERS patients had no known contact with animals.
“There must be some other step somewhere that results in human infections,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.
He said it was still unclear what kind of animal contact might be needed for MERS to spread.
“Even if we know where the virus is, we don’t know exactly how it’s jumping into humans,” Hartl said. “This is another piece of the puzzle, but there are still a lot of holes that need to be filled in.”
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Creating a real brew-haha: The trendsetting Jeddah coffee shop

Brew92°: A perfect place to hang out for the day. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj )
Updated 19 July 2018
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Creating a real brew-haha: The trendsetting Jeddah coffee shop

  • Brew92° has been generating a lot of buzz since its soft opening in July 2016
  • The team at the cafe sources beans from some of the best growers and suppliers in the world, then roasts them in their own private roastery

JEDDAH: Coffee aficionados in Jeddah have probably heard the name Brew92° whispered in reverent tones as a suggestion for the perfect place to hang out for the day, or just to pop into for a quick caffeine fix.

The specialty cafe has also introduced Saudi Arabia to the world of coffee bean auctions. In June 2018 it paid $105 for a pound of Gori Gesha beans at the annual Gesha Village Coffee Estate auction in Ethiopia, the highest price ever paid for African beans.

Brew92° has been generating a lot of buzz since its soft opening in July 2016, attracting coffee drinkers of all ages to try its consistent and powerful blends. The team at the cafe sources beans from some of the best growers and suppliers in the world, then roasts them in their own private roastery. 

Arab News was given a special behind-the-scenes glimpse of the process to see how the beans are prepared and processed to make the perfect cup of coffee. All of the roasts they create are tasted blind, for example, without the tasters knowing the origin of the beans, to avoid any bias in their opinions on the taste and quality. “There’s no absolute, there are only guidelines,” is the motto the team behind Brew92° live by.

The idea for the place came from co-founder Abdul Aziz Al-Musbahi, who often frequented a coffee shop when he spent a few years in London studying and decided he would like to open a branch in Saudi Arabia. The owner declined to do so but instead offered to teach him all he knew about coffee beans and roasting.

Later, Al-Musbahi met business partner Hussain Ibrahim and suggested opening a roastery. Instead of immediately finding premises and starting work, Al-Musbahi set about finding and recruiting the best talents, before starting to develop the brand. He built and invested in a solid, capable team, the members of which trained with coffee consultants.

“I’ve been in this field since 2005,” said Ibrahim. “What I learned in the two years with Brew92° beats what I learned in the 10 years before it and the 10 years ahead.”

The name of the place, he added, was decided during a trip he and Al-Musbahi took to Dubai.

“The perfect water temperature for brewing is between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius; 92 is kind of in the middle — and it is the year in which Abdul Aziz was born.”

The team’s creative mastermind, Mohamed Bamahriz, has a theory about why the cafe is proving so popular.

“It’s because we’re addressing our customer’s five senses,” he said. 

Bamahriz noted: “We have our customized music playlist based on the time of the day and what sort of ambiance the customer is looking for whenever they come here, be it early in the morning or with slumped shoulders after working hours.”

“We also tailored our decor to be visually friendly and cozy,” he said and added: “Our visitors not only enjoy the coffee, they get to smell it and be completely submerged within the experience.”

“A month from now, we will also be introducing fashionable merchandise, which is something they can touch. We want to create a brand but we don’t want it to be niche and exclusive. Just like (our intention for) specialty coffee when we first introduced it, we want it to be for everyone; we want to create a sense of community and we want to prove that we can all coexist.”

He said that something he loves about Brew92° is that he can look around and see a man wearing a thobe sitting next to another in shorts and a third in a suit, while girls in niqabs sit side by side with others wearing the hijab and those who not — and it does not matter at all because everyone is equal.

The cafe also aims to be a trendsetter, rather than just following them.

“We’ve created quite a bit of hype with our salted caramel drink,” said marketing director Nidal Taha. It is called Halawa Bagara in Arabic, named after the popular caramel fudge that has a special place in the childhood memories of millennials. “We invented it by mixing coffee with it — after all, we’re not a juice shop,” added Taha.

“Many cafes are now trying to recreate it,” said Ibrahim. “Suppliers are bringing caramel sauces from all over the place. Our aim is to make it a signature drink everywhere, just like the Spanish introduced the Spanish latte — we want our drinks to reach the rest of the world.”