Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Saudi Camel-MERS Controversy Continues

Photo: ©FAO/Ami Vitale

Credit FAO


UPDATED:  You’ll find an easier to decipher English Language version of the media story mentioned below  at  No conclusive proof’ camels spread MERS: Expert


# 10,619


After recent efforts by the Saudi MOH and MOA to impose restrictions on camels (see Hajj: Camel Sacrifice Prohibited To Help Prevent MERS), we’ve seen a backlash by angry camel owners (see Saudi Camel Owners Threaten Over MERS `Slander’), one which now threatens to escalate after many Arabic papers carried reports overnight supposedly `exonerating’  camels in the transmission of MERS.


A sampling of headlines include:

Expert confirms the innocence of camels transport «Corona»

Saudi researcher: No conclusive scientific evidence about the involvement of the camel in the spread of "Corona"


Scientific research exonerate camels from triggering the transfer of "Corona" to humans


Although the machine translations produced a syntax-tortured text, typical of the reports above is this one:


Saudi researcher: No conclusive scientific evidence about the involvement of the camel in the spread of "Corona"

10/13 07:01

Put an expert specialist important points on ABC debate in the medical community on the relevance of camel's syndrome respiratory Middle East "Corona", and the measures proposed by some specialists to deal with camels disposition or vaccinated against the disease.

And he gave D.abdakadir Haider, the supervisor of the research unit Biological and Medical derivatives camels, in the Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy, King Saud University, Information research balance between the accusations raised against camels, and the facts that exonerate the animal, and concluded in his paper that he had not proven scientific evidence conclusively Camel's involvement in the spread of virus Coruna, calling for joint efforts Doctors and infectious diseases specialist veterinarians and viral diseases on a mechanism to identify the spread of the epidemic.

And d said. Haider in his paper "no published studies this moment to prove in scientific journals and the fact that the samples examined the blood of camels and the presence of the virus in the blood. On the contrary, more than 80% of which carry antibodies antioxidant and protective of the virus. This reason is not to prove that camels do not get symptoms of this viral disease, but a study has shown the presence of the virus in some mucus camels, and Unpublished report (requires careful scientific) assessment of the Ministry of Agriculture indicates the presence of the virus in 3.3% in some samples and did not report the age of those camels and source explains, referring to the It is well known that camels acquired immune after her birth months, and this study put onus on camels as a place of settlement active virus and then transmitted the virus to humans and he became ill, pointing out that the camels differ from creatures in containing the object on the device immune privileged, which is the only one with an animal llama, which contains immunological blood on the bodies of various shape makes for such objects More Efficient resistance in infectious diseases, according to the newspaper "Al-Riyadh".


Likewise, the Arabic twitter feed (search  كورونا  aka `Corona’) is littered today with triumphant declarations of the innocence (or at least, a lack of proof against) camels in the transmission of MERS 


Not having seen the paper in question, and not fully trusting either the reportage or the translations above, I can’t really comment on this researcher’s conclusions other than to say `definitive proof’ is always a pretty high bar to set.


Admittedly, the extent to which camels contribute to the spread of MERS in the Middle East is far from clear.


The evidence is pretty good that they are likely responsible for some zoonotic spillover of the virus into the human population, although most human infections undoubtedly come from contact with other infected humans, and only a small number are suspected to be the result of camel exposure.


Perhaps the most convincing data was presented a year ago (see EID Journal: Replication & Shedding Of MERS-CoV In Inoculated Camels), which showed infected camels shed copious amounts of the virus via nasal discharge for at least a week.


We have proof that camels can carry and shed the virus, seroprevalence studies have shown most Arabian camels have MERS-like antibodies by the time they reach adulthood (suggesting prior infection), and we know some MERS cases have reported having close contact with camels or camel products in the two week prior to falling ill.


We’ve even seen evidence of Airborne Fragments Of MERS-CoV Detected In a Saudi Camel Barn owned by a MERS patient who died from the virus. 

But what we haven’t seen is clear, absolute, incontrovertible proof that camels have transmitted the virus to humans.


And it’s not an easy thing to prove. Given the high fatality rate of the virus, the kind of controlled experiment needed to `prove’ causation beyond any doubt would be highly unethical, very dangerous, and I suspect volunteers would be hard to recruit. 


Despite this lack of a `smoking camel’, the preponderance of evidence today strongly suggests camels are responsible for some spillover of the virus into humans.


Last year the MOA  issued fairly strict guidance urging breeders and owners to limit their contact with camels, and to use PPEs (masks, gloves, protective clothing) when in close contact with their animals.  Last week the Saudi Govt. Called For Talks With Camel Owners Over MERS, in hopes of convincing camel owners of the need to protect themselves, and the public, from camel-borne MERS.  


Unfortunately, last night’s flurry of media reports `exonerating camels’, and today’s celebration by vindicated camel owners, are unlikely to make that task any easier.

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