MERS Virus Symptoms Warnings Protested In Saudi Arabia By Kissing Camels

Patrick Frye

The spread of MERS virus symptoms in Saudi Arabia has caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue many warnings asking for people to be more careful when handling camels and any byproducts coming from the animal. In response, some farmers who routinely work with camels have shown open disdain for the MERS health warning by posting photos and videos of themselves kissing camels.

In a related report by The Inquisitr, the WHO warned the MERS virus may be spread by drinking camel urine and says that people should avoid the traditional medicinal practice:

"[P]eople should not drink camel urine, which is reportedly used for medicinal purposes by some in the Middle East. The WHO advice was echoed yesterday by an advisory from the Saudi agriculture ministry, in what appeared to be a first in a country where camels are culturally important and revered animals."

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a coronavirus like SARS, which killed hundreds of people after first appearing in 2002. While SARS killed about 10 percent of the infected, the MERS virus symptoms are more deadly and so far have killed about a third of the people who have contracted it. So far the MERS virus has been linked to the deaths of at least 175 people in Saudi Arabia, although it's possible that more have died than what has been documented. The worst part is that a MERS virus epidemic could potentially be deadly since there is no cure for the MERS virus as of now, although multiple companies are racing to create a MERS vaccine as soon as possible.

The people of Saudi Arabia are apparently skeptical about the MERS virus symptoms. Even though the WHO has recommended wearing masks and gloves when working with camels, this advice has largely been ignored, according to reports by Reuters. Others are openly mocking the advice. For example, this one man filmed himself kissing a camel while saying, "Do sneeze in my face. They claim camels carry the coronavirus."

Other people have used Twitter to post images of themselves kissing camels in addition to making disparaging remarks about the threat of the MERS virus:

— مساعد الكثيري (@drrdob) May 13, 2014

— نواف الحدباء (@nawaf4908) May 9, 2014

Unfortunately, this attitude is not limited to the general public. Scientists working on tracking the MERS virus claim that "if Saudi authorities had been more open to outside help offered by specialist teams around the world" then "these infections and deaths could have been stopped well within the two years since MERS first emerged" in Saudi Arabia. Although these scientists believe camels are the source of the MERS virus they also admit they have "no idea how people are getting infected, whether by eating camel meat, or drinking the milk, touching blood or other body fluids, or simply being nearby when they cough or sneeze." It's even said that when a man named Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian microbiologist, reported the first MERS virus case, he lost his job because of the discovery.

David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology, says this attitude toward the MERS virus is a tragedy in of itself:

"It's really a tragedy for these people who get sick. It's just so frustrating not to know how people are getting infected and to see people continue to get infected and die from a virus which maybe they wouldn't have to get if we knew more."

[Image via Wikimedia]