A study done by scientists from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has confirmed through laboratory testing that camels can transmit the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus to humans amid increasing cases of the disease, causing the country to eye testing camels in the future. The team used genetic sequencing and found that a man carried an identical strain to that of one of his camels.
The 44-year-old Saudi Arabian had three friends and a daughter who showed symptoms as well, but they and the camel survived while the man died within weeks of infection last year. MERS antibodies were observed in the camel’s blood before the man’s, showing that camels can infect humans with the virus as previously suspected.
This new development follows the Saudi Ministry of Health reporting that there are now 688 known MERS cases that include 282 deaths as of June 3. Saudi Arabia now eyes testing camels and other livestock in an attempt to control MERS as cases appear to be increasing fast.
Another attempt to control the virus’ spread is the recent recruitment of 2,100 trained nurses to deal with Saudi Arabia’s shortage of local nurses qualified to provide proper care. Most come from India, and the rest come from the Philippines where some MERS cases have been reported. Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish was fired on June 2 after being criticized for not doing enough to control the virus, especially for not accepting outside help.
MERS first appeared in July 2012. A 60-year-old man developed pneumonia and had kidney failure before dying from infection. The virus has been found in camels from other places such as Ethiopia. Cases have been reported in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Asia. The virus comes from the same family as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in late 2002. Another relative of MERS is the common cold.
There have been two MERS cases in the U.S. so far, the latest being reported in Florida last month. The first was reported in Indiana last month as well. Both men had travelled to Saudi Arabia, got infected before coming back to America, and have fully recovered.
MERS is a strain of coronavirus. Coronaviruses can infect both humans and animals’ respiratory systems, with children likely to get infected. Many people will be infected by a coronavirus multiple times throughout their lifetime – the common cold is one example. The virus that causes MERS is called MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
The disease has a mortality rate of approximately 30 percent. Symptoms are coughing, shortness of breath and fever. Some people have reported nausea, vomiting and diarrhea as well. Most of those who have died from the disease have developed health complications that include pneumonia and kidney failure, as the first reported case and death. Others infected had either cold-like symptoms or none at all, making a full recovery.
Those with weak immune systems or pre-existing conditions such as cancer are at greater risk of getting infected or likely to develop a severe infection. The time period between infection and showing symptoms is anywhere from two to 14 days. Transmission comes from close contact with the infected. Prevention is similar to that of trying not to get a cold. There is no specific treatment or vaccine.
Alongside eyeing the testing of camels, Saudi Arabia has started to seek outside help with the recruitment of foreign nurses to cope with the increase of MERS cases. Still, a lot of work has yet to be done to control the spread of the virus in the country and the region, especially as Ramadan approaches.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa