Amid MERS Worries, Saudi Arabia Advise Citizens Against Camel Products

Experts believe camels are the most likely culprits for transmission of the disease, which saw a spike in cases over the weekend, to humans.

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Camels are displayed during the Mazayen al-Ibl competition, a parade of the 'most beautiful camels,' in Tabouk, 1500 km from Riyadh in this November 27, 2012 file photo. Credit: Reuters

Saudi Arabia has advised citizens against camel products after experts concluded the animals could be the source of the Middle East respiratory syndrome known as MERS, which saw a spike in reported cases over the weekend. 

There has been a consensus during discussions [with experts] over the past two days and there was advice not to get in close contact with camels, especially sick camels, acting Saudi Health Minister Adel bin Mohammad Faqih said Tuesday.

The acting minister advised against consuming "meat or raw meat products from camel, according to Al Arabiya.

Faqih said the Saudi kingdom had consulted experts, including World Health Organization officials, on how best to deal with the virus, which has claimed more than 100 lives in Saudi Arabia so far. On Saturday, Egypt discovered its first case of the deadly virus, in a patient who had recently arrived from Saudi Arabia.

Although scientists don't yet know exactly how the virus, which is found in bats and camels, is transmitted, experts say camels are the most likely culprits, Al Arabiya reported.

The deadly virus, which seems to kill about 40% of its victims, has reportedly also been detected in Asia and Europe. Saudi Arabia, where MERS was discovered around two years ago and which remains the country most affected, has now had 339 confirmed cases of MERS, of which 102 have been fatal. The 143 cases announced since the start of April represent a 73 percent jump in total infections in Saudi Arabia this month, according to Reuters. 

MERS is a SARS-like coronavirus, meaning it belongs to the family of cold viruses, some of which can get vicious. SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome – is another member of that clan. The disease itself starts out resembling flu, with fever, loose bowels and breathing difficulty, followed by pneumonia and kidney failure. There's no vaccine for it (leaving aside debate about the efficacy of flu shots).