Representative photo from iStock
Representative photo from iStock

There is no immediate cause for worry or concern, a public health analyst and epidemiologist has told Down To Earth (DTE) a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a man had been infected with the deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Chandrakant Lahariya also added that humanity has been acquainted with MERS-CoV, which belongs to the same family as the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). That virus had caused the three-year-long novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic from 2020-2022.

“I don’t think it is a matter of any immediate worry or concern. MERS was first detected in 2012. But since then, it has been regularly reported from multiple countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The virus has been there for more than a decade and we understand it fairly well now,” he told DTE on July 25, 2023.

News agency Reuters reported on July 24 that a 28-year-old man had tested positive for MERS-CoV in Al Ain, a city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi on UAE’s border with Oman.

The man had been admitted to hospital last month, Reuters added citing a statement released by WHO on July 24. The 108 people he had come into contact with have not reported any infection so far, the statement said.

It noted that the man had no record of contact with dromedary camels, which spread the disease.

“MERS is a zoonotic disease. A person gets infected on coming in contact with dromedary camels. But cases of human-to-human transmission have been reported in the past. This person may not have come in contact with camels. Instead, he may have been in touch with another person who may have been infected with MERS,” Lahariya said.

The main symptoms of MERS are fever, coughing and shortness of breath, and in some cases, pneumonia.

“In total, 27 countries have reported cases since 2012, leading to 858 known deaths due to the infection and related complications,” a note on the WHO website states.

“MERS-CoV is also considered to be a coronavirus with a high mortality rate. One in every three of officially reported cases have died. But the fact is that this is an overestimate of mortality because many of the subclinical cases are not documented. This person may have come into contact with a subclinical case who may have been in contact with camels,” according to Lahariya.

Abdul Raziq Kakar, intenational camel dairying consultant, founder of World Camel Day and Camel4Life International, who resides in Al Ain, however told DTE that the case should not be used to villainise camels.

“This case has been reported from Al Ain, where I live. The person does not appear to be a local Emirati but rather a South Asian migrant. He also does not have anything to do with camels,” Kakar told DTE on the phone.

“The dromedary is not the only reservoir of MERS-CoV. It is found in bats, cattle, sheep and goats as well. Even more importantly, some of the largest number of cases during the 2012 MERS outbreak were reported from South Korea which does not have a native camel population. This case should not be a reason to blame camels,” he added.

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