JEDDAH — About 97 percent of people who are in contact with camels do not wear facial masks or gloves to protect themselves from the coronavirus that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and other illnesses transmitted by camels, an Okaz/Saudi Gazette survey has revealed.
The survey also showed people are still buying camel milk and are not boiling it before drinking it even though failing to do so raises the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health’s undersecretary and chairman of the command and control center, Dr. Abdulaziz Abdullah Bin Saeed, said many researchers have proven that camels are disease-carrying animals.
“The patients who contracted the coronavirus during the past few months were all in close physical contact with camels. This animal is only a carrier of the disease but not the source. We are still researching to find out the source,” said Bin Saeed.
Deputy Health Minister for Preventive Medicine Dr. Abdullah Asiri further confirmed that camels are carriers of the coronavirus.
“Medical and academic studies all over the world and not just in the Kingdom have proven that camels have a natural immunity in their blood system against coronavirus. This means camels were once infected with the disease but have now built an immunity against it,” said Asiri.
The World Health Organization has cited the preliminary results of studies indicating that people working with camels are at increased risk of infection from MERS and young camels are particularly susceptible.
A surge in MERS cases typically occurs around this time of year, when there are more juvenile camels circulating, Bin Saeed said.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health launched a new campaign to raise awareness on MERS. The campaign uses television, radio, print, social media and text messages with the theme “We can stop it.”
Earlier efforts relied on media interviews and statements by health officials, and airports displayed posters about how to prevent the virus.
A total of 936 people have been infected with MERS since it was first identified in the Kingdom in 2012, and 402 of them have died.
Meanwhile, seven camels died of an undefined illness in Jazan recently. The director of agriculture in one of Jazan’s governorates, Ali Al-Ameer, said they inspected the camel barns that reported the deaths.
“We took a sample from the diseased camels to examine it in our labs and we also injected all other camels in the area to prevent an escalation of the illness,” said Al-Ameer.