Health experts reject camel owners' claim

Coronavirus warning sparks war of words between farmers, doctors


By Mohammed Dawood

Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Medical consultants have rejected the claim by some camel owners that their animals have nothing to do with the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The owners have claimed that most of the individuals who rear the animals have been unaffected by the killer virus.

The war of words between camel owners and medical experts started after the publication of a healthcare warning, which urged the public to stay away from camels to avoid MERS-CoV.

The disease has already killed more than 400 people including Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.

"Please treat your patients and leave our camels alone," a camel owner told the medical experts while speaking to Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

But the consultants retorted by saying that the camel owners should not ignore the findings of scientific studies that confirmed the role of camels in transmitting the disease.

Dr. Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al-Halawani, associate professor and undersecretary for higher studies and scientific research at Al-Baha University, said it has been confirmed that camels transfer the virus to humans.

"Nobody can dispute this matter as scientific studies conducted at the laboratories of King Faisal University were successful in separating the MERS coronavirus from nasal secretions of camel calves," he said.

Statistics released by the Health Ministry have also confirmed these findings. "Most people infected with the virus, including the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases have had some contacts with the camels," he explained.

Asked about the claim of camel owners that most camel herders were unaffected by the virus, he said the reason is simple. "Their continuous contacts with camels for years have developed antibodies in their body that protected them from the virus," Al-Halawani said.

Dr. Mahmoud Mohammed, an ENT consultant, said MERS-CoV is a basically an animal-borne disease even though the symptoms would not appear in camels.

"Lab tests conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture on a large number of camels in different regions of the Kingdom have showed the presence of the virus in them," he said, adding that the ministry has instructed workers who deal with camels to be cautious.

"This instruction was given due to the presence of the coronavirus in most camels. The best way to avoid the disease is to keep away from camels, being the main source of the disease," he added.