KUWAIT: Saudi Arabia said people handling camels should wear masks and gloves to prevent spreading Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), issuing such a warning for the first time as cases of the potentially fatal virus neared 500 in the kingdom.
Health experts say camels are the most likely animal source of infection for the disease, which the Saudi Health Ministry said late on Saturday that seven more people had caught.
First reported two years ago in Saudi Arabia, MERS is a coronavirus like SARS, which originated in animals and killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002. There is no vaccine or anti-viral treatment against it.
More than a quarter of the 480 diagnosed with MERS in Saudi Arabia, still the focal point of the outbreak, have died, while cases have been reported in other Middle Eastern countries, in Europe and in the United States, which had its first confirmed case last month.
The link between human cases and camels — which have a special place in Saudi society — is the subject of extensive study among scientists abroad. But it has been relatively absent from much of the official domestic debate.
In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry advised people not to come into contact with camels unless necessary and to wash hands before and after if they did, as well as wearing face masks, state news agency SPA said on Sunday.
“It is advisable to wear protective gloves, especially when dealing with births or sick or dead (camels),” it said, according to SPA. It also advised only eating cooked camel meat and to boil camel milk before consuming it.
The statement urged people to report symptoms of MERS in camels immediately.
Only one of dozens of people working near an auction pen in Riyadh’s camel market on Sunday was wearing a mask, and there were no signs of any official visit from the authorities, a Reuters photographer said. Public disquiet in Saudi Arabia has grown amid rumours on social media sites about a lack of transparency from officials about the spread of the disease. REUTERS