Link between MERS virus and camels worries breeders



JEDDAH: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR & RUDOLFO ESTIMO JR.

Published — Saturday 10 August 2013

Last update 18 August 2013 12:49 pm

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Some Saudis are worried that the link between the MERS virus and camels is not clear and that it could affect their livelihood as sellers of camel milk.
Yet the connection between Omani camels and a MERS-like virus has brought attention to the potential hazards of purchasing camel milk that has not been pasteurized.
“On one of Jeddah roads behind the football stadium you will find about three camel herds with their farmers sitting on the side of the main road,” said Abdulrahman Hashim, a medical student. “You can walk up to them and ask them for milk and they will sell you some. This is extremely dangerous and lack proper hygiene not to mention that it is not safe for those on the streets driving their cars.”
Hashim said it appears the camels are not cared for properly.
“I would step away from taking their milk because we don’t know if they are clean or healthy so we all should stay away from them and other camels until this study fully published and they find a cure for them,” he added.
According to a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment have found clue that suggests camels might be involved in infecting people with MERS virus. The scientists took 50 blood samples from Omani camels and compared it to 15 of 105 samples from Spanish camels, they found that something circulating in camels that looks similar to MERS.
There are 94 confirmed cases of MERS, a SARS-like virus, and 34 reported deaths.
The news worried some Saudis who own camel farms and those who eat its meat and drink its milk.
“It is a surprising news especially during Eid and we are left wondering if we should eat it in our gatherings or not,” he said. “Now that restaurants are starting to sell more camel products, from burgers, ice cream and coffee, I’m sure they did their homework by taking a good care of their camels so I think there is no need to worry.”
Some farmers and camel owners refuse to believe the scientist’s research. “We have been eating camel meat in every big gathering and we are not ill so I am doubting this study is any good,” said Abu Mansour, a camel owner in western region. “We would rather test our own camels and see for ourselves. My camels are fine and I have people buying from me and I help other farmers breeding with my cattle for years now and nothing happen, I just need an explanation why did this news spread now.”
Although camel breeders may be skeptical, Dr. Mohammad Zakir Uddin Ahmad Khan, a general practitioner for the Ministry of Health, said there is credibility in the study.
“The finding of the scientists need further study, but it could be a possibility,” Khan told Arab News. “Camels are also mammals and if the scientists found traces of antibodies against the MERS virus in one-humped camel, that means the camel was at one point infected with MERS.”
Dr. Tanweer Alam, an emergency physician at the King Khaled International Airport (KKIA), agreed the study has merit.
“What the scientists found were not MERS virus but similar to it. Their finding could be true but it needs further study to support it.”

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