Camels are being linked to the recent spread of the MERS virus, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which has made its way from Saudi Arabia to the United States. The World Health Organization has issued warnings about contact with camels, advising those people with chronic kidney failure, diabetes, chronic lung disease, or otherwise compromised immune systems to avoid contact completely. Saudi Arabia has issued warnings to wear masks and gloves when dealing with the animals, according to a Monday, May 12, article on The Province.com.
The camel, a source of food and milk in many parts of the world, can still be consumed after cooking or pasteurization. Oddly, camel urine is considered to have medicinal qualities, but the WHO cautions against drinking the urine. Diseased camels should not be consumed at all and should be separated from other animals.
The MERS virus is a cousin to the SARS virus which killed hundreds of people after appearing in China in 2002. Both of these illnesses are caused by the coronavirus, and there are no treatments currently available. The MERS cases in Saudi Arabia are soaring, and the death rate is currently understood to be around 30%.
A man visiting family in the United States brought the illness from Saudi Arabia, arriving in Chicago and riding a bus to Indiana, according to a report on the LA Times. Although the potential for disaster has been somewhat downplayed regarding this camel-borne disease due to sensitivity to the Arab culture, the response by the public health entities in the U.S. speaks volumes. They have traced everyone he was remotely in contact with during his visit, even isolating around 50 hospital workers who had the potential for being exposed to MERS.
The authorities worked quickly and decisively in this case to prevent an epidemic of unknown proportion. Although the man diagnosed with MERS has been released to return to Saudi Arabia, the United States remains on alert, watching for signs of this and other dangerous diseases. The head of epidemiology for the state of Indiana, Pam Pontones, was quoted by the LA Times.
"Anyone is a planeload away from any disease on Earth.”