Camel Flu or MERS: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention, Travel Suggestions

Camel Flu or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is caused by MERS-coronavirus also known as MERS-CoV. It is a respiratory infection that is caused by virus and the betacoronavirus is derived from bats.

Camels have antibodies to MERS-CoV and the exact cause of Camel Flu or MERS has not been identified. This respiratory infection was first identified in Saudi Arabia, in the year 2012. After that, it has been recorded in other countries like Europe, Africa, United States and Asia. People who have traveled in the Middle East have been reported with this case.

Camel Flu or MERS

Camel Flu or MERS mainly causes shortness of breath, fever and cough. Other symptoms may include diarrhea, nauseas and vomiting as well. Pneumonia is also commonly seen and sometimes it may cause injuries to kidneys and other organs.

The treatment for Camel Flu or MERS is concentrated towards relieving the symptoms and involves fluids, rest, and oxygen therapy and pain relievers in most cases.

About 30 percent of people who are suffering from Camel Flu or MERS have been dead. You are prone to get higher risk of illness when you are an adult and have a weak immune system as well. The chronic diseases like lung diseases and diabetes can also be seen associated with such disorders.

Causes of Camel Flu or MERS

The exact cause of being affected with Camel Flu or MERS has not been determined. In most cases, the virus seems to pass from the person who is infected to the person who is in contact with him or her. This has been observed in people belonging to a single family, patients as well as health care providers. The increased number of deaths of health care providers has been reported in the recent times. Chances are that these people may be infected due to exposure to an animal or any other person who was affected by the virus.

Symptoms of Camel Flu or MERS

A characteristic case of Camel Flu or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) includes cough, shortness of respiration as well as fever. Pneumonia is only diagnosed when examined for the disease. Other gastrointestinal signs, including diarrhea has also been seen in many cases. At times, when this disorder is severe, it can lead to respiratory failure in most patients. Some have also undergone organ failure and need support of ICU (intensive care unit) as well as mechanical ventilation. Some patients suffer from kidney failure and are often under septic shock as well. The virus affects people whose immune system is weak and those who suffer from lung disease, cancer as well as diabetes.

In a few cases, the symptoms do not cause any kind of infection. Such people have been suffering from the disease have been identified as they were tested for MERS-Coronavirus when they were in contact with people suffering from Camel Flu or MERS.

Is MERS-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Contagious?

Yes, it is but only to a restricted range. The MERS-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) does not pass from one person to the other unless he or she is in close contact with each other. This only occurs when the treatment is given in an unprotected manner. The healthcare facilities are at greater risk, as there is a man-to-man transmission taking place in a more numbers, especially when there at attempts being done to prevent the infection. By far, there is no record of its transmission in sustained community.

What Is the Origin of MERS-Coronavirus or MERS-CoV?

The exact source of this MERS-Coronavirus or MERS-CoV is not still clear. A coronavirus that match the MERS-Coronavirus or MERS-CoV has been isolated from camels in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. There are other studies that have been found helpful in knowing more about the antibodies of MERS‐CoV that are seen in camels who belong across the Middle east and Africa. The genetic sequence data of humans and camels has been demonstrated to be closely linked to the virus in resemblance. There is a possibility of existence of other reservoirs as well. The antibodies of MERS‐CoV have been tested in animals like water buffalo, cows, sheep, wild birds and swine but they are not found. It has been verified that the camels are the only source of infection in people.

Is It Safe To Use Camel Products or Visit Camel Fairs, Markets or Farms?

Since a part of precautionary measures, any person who is visiting markets, barns, farms etc… places where they can be exposed to animals should take care of their hygiene. They should wash their hands before and after exposing to the animals or maintaining a contact with them.

Higher risks of Camel Flu or MERS can be seen when the raw forms of derivatives that come from animals are being consumed. This may involve any uncooked animal products, milk as well as meat for that matter. This is why; the products should be processed well by pasteurization or cooking, thus making it safe for general use. Cross contamination of certain foods should also be avoided when it comes to uncooked food. Camel milk and meat are nutritious as compared to any other foods, so they must be processed or undergone heat treatments prior to consumption.

Until Camel Flu or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is more understood, people suffering from kidney failure, diabetes, chronic lung diseases and other immune-compromised conditions should be considered to be at higher risk of being infected by Camel Flu or MERS. Such people should therefore avoid coming in contact with a camel or part of its food at any extent.

Slaughterhouse workers or camel farm workers should try to maintain personal hygiene. This may include maintaining facial protection or washing hands or wearing protective clothing which has to be removed and washed thoroughly prior to heading home. Workers should also not try to maintain any contact with all the other family members wearing the same clothes or shoes. If any animal has been diagnosed with MERS‐CoV, people should avoid making a contact with them.

Tests to Diagnose Camel Flu or MERS

Camel Flu or MERS can be diagnosed in a person in two primary ways:

  1. A type of test is conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state labs which are known as PCR. PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction:

    • Polymerase Chain Reaction(PCR) tests are carried out by inspecting respiratory samples and can determine if the MERS-CoV infection is active or not.
  2. Another type of test is conducted by the CDC lab and is known as serology testing.

    • Blood testing are used as a part of serology and is devised to check for MERS-CoV antibodies that could determine if the person was infected previously as well as diagnosed with a faulty immune response.
    • Serology that is carried out for Camel Flu or MERS consists of three tests that are carried out separately:
    • A screening test known as ELISA or Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay
    • A positive test known as IFA or Immuno Fluorescent Assay
    • A definitive but slower confirmatory test known as neutralizing anti-body assay.

Treatment for Camel Flu or MERS

Any specific antiviral treatment is not suggested for Camel Flu or MERS. People suffering from Camel Flu or MERS can get some help from medical care institutions for seeking treatment for the symptoms that are observed.

Prevention of Camel Flu or MERS

There is no vaccine available for getting rid or preventing the Camel Flu or MERS. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is on the quest for developing a vaccine for the same. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advises all the people to follow certain precautions to protect them from illness caused in respiratory organs.

  • Wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 minutes and assist children in doing the same thing. If water and soap are unavailable, you can use a sanitizer that contains alcohol.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with a tissue while coughing or sneezing and dispose off the tissue after each use.
  • Avoid touching nose, eyes or mouth with dirty hands.
  • Personal contacts like kissing; eating in same utensils of sick people should be avoided.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting the surfaces as well as infected objects should be done frequently.

Travel Suggestions For Doctors, Countries and Individuals

The risk of infection caused by Camel Flu or MERS can be noticed in people who are traveling to Middle East countries and it is advised to maintain the right precautionary measures.

  1. Advice all the travelers who are coming to the Middle Eastern countries about the medical conditions that are prevailing in the area. This may enable the people who are suffering from chronic illnesses form traveling to the Middle East and even if they do, educate them about the Camel Flu or MERS.
  2. Provide information to all the travel organizations as well as the travelers who are departing so that the risk of Camel Flu or MERS is reduced to a greater extent. Importance should be laid on maintaining personal hygiene like washing hands and stop following unsafe practices like eating raw meat or consume vegetables without washing.
  3. Health advisories should be provided to all the travelers who are about to depart and also for those who are working with tourism sectors or placing materials that travel to and from the Middle East. Various modes of communication like health alerts on ships and planes by using pamphlets, banners and making announcements via the radio should be chosen. Such advisories should have all the information about the Camel Flu or MERS and the precautions that are needed to be taken to avoid it completely.
  4. The travelers who are traveling with certain respiratory illness, including cough and fever should be advised to maintain minimum contact with fellow travelers. They should be advised to cover their nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing. Even if they sneeze or cough, they should follow the practice of washing their hands. If they happen to sneeze on the upper half of the sleeve, they should contact the medical staff for disinfecting.
  5. The travelers who are returning from the Middle East should be advised about the steps that have to be taken when they develop an acute illness in the respiratory organs. They should seek medical attention or care when the person has reached the country after traveling to the Middle East. After this, the travelers should notify about their health to the local health authority.
  6. People who have been in close contact with a traveler who has a respiratory illness along with cough and fever should be advised in the right manner. The people who have developed such illnesses due to travel should be monitored or inspected for Camel Flu or MERS.
  7. The facilitators and the practitioners that are prone to be infected by Camel Flu or MERS while returning with the travelers should be alerted. Those with fever or other respiratory illness should be alerted for getting infected by the disease.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 18, 2019

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