By Fazeena Saleem
DOHA: The Supreme Council of Health (SCH) said yesterday that there were no new cases of MERS — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome — in Qatar but advised people to take precautions while dealing with camels.
The specialised laboratory at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) conducted tests on some 14,000 samples collected from humans and animals across the country as part of a nationwide survey on the disease.
Until now, nine confirmed cases of MERS have been detected in humans in the country and five of them have died.
Citing a recent survey, SCH there were more chances of people handling camels getting infected.
SCH will soon launch a campaign to raise awareness about the issue.
However, the risk of people dealing with camels getting infected by MERS is not a cause for fear as the disease wouldn’t get severe.
A pilot survey by SCH and the Ministry of Environment says people once affected by MERS are immune to the infection.
The survey, in collaboration with World Health Organisation (WHO) and Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, was conducted to understand how MERS corona virus spreads, who is at the risk of being infected, and who actually get infected.
“Among people we examined, around 20 dealing with camels had signs of past infection, but very mild,” Dr Mohammed Al Hajri, Head of Communicable Diseases Control Section, SCH, told a press conference held to discuss survey findings.
MERS cases are prevailing in camels in Qatar and evidence of virus has been found from camels from different locations.
The virus most frequently spreads from nasal secretions, but about 20 percent of virus-positive animals also shed virus from faeces, according to the survey.
“Some camels in Qatar have been found infected,” said Dr Al Hajri, but did not disclose the number of cases.
However, the survey has not found if the detection of Ribonucleic acid (RNA) of the viral has a direct risk to human health, as it’s not known if infectious virus is present in animal secretion, on carcasses or in the milk. Based on the findings of the survey, experts have advised people to take care of their personal hygiene and have properly cooked camel meet and milk.
Several preventive measures have been taken by SCH in coordination with WHO. They include being prepared to monitor suspected cases and take steps to prevent infection at all healthcare facilities.
People working at camel farms and slaughterhouses are advised to have good personal hygiene, with frequent hand washing after touching animals, facial protection as far as possible and to wear protective clothing, which should be removed after work and washed daily.
Workers are also advised to avoid exposing family members to work clothing, shoes, or other items that may have been exposed to camels or camel excretions.
Sick animals are not allowed to be slaughtered for consumption; in cases a particular animal has been tested positive for MERS, people should avoid direct contact with such animals.
Meanwhile, the GCC states have agreed to test camels for MERS when they are imported.
Camels will not be allowed to cross the border except those that have segments of tariff brackets and passports passage.
Therefore, no ban has been imposed on camel imports to Qatar from the other GCC states. But all camels arriving in Qatar are tested for MERS.
Any camel found with infection will be isolated for 30 days and re-examined. However, the Ministry of Environment has imposed a ban on camel imports from countries outside the GCC.
In December 2013, three camels were tested positive for MERS in Qatar. Between November 2013 and May 2014, nine people, including six Qataris, were found to be infected. Currently, no one is being treated for MERS in Qatar.
DOHA: The Supreme Council of Health (SCH) advised pilgrims returning from Umrah or Haj to seek medical attention if they have fever within two weeks as they could be screened for MERS.
People with pre-existing major medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung diseases, immunodeficiency, above 65, pregnant women and children are more likely to develop severe MERS infections if they are exposed to the virus.
Pilgrims are also advised to consult a healthcare provider before travelling to review the risk and postponing pilgrimage is advisable, in needed.
They are also advised to get vaccinated at least two weeks prior to travel and maintain good personal hygiene.
SCH also urged pilgrims to avoid close contact with camels, farms, non-pasteurised camel milk or improperly cooked meat.
The Department of Public Health is coordinating with Qatar Haj Committee to have a set of preventive measures for pilgrims in coordination with health authorities in Saudi Arabia, SCH officials told a press conference. The Peninsula