By Joseph Varghese/Staff Reporter
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona virus (Mers CoV) is present among dromedary camels in Qatar and people dealing very closely with them may become infected though they may not develop severe disease, according to the preliminary results of a survey conducted by Supreme Council of Health (SCH).
Dr Salih Ali al-Marri, SCH’s assistant secretary general for medical affairs, said yesterday that the national survey was undertaken by SCH and the Ministry of Environment in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands.
Dr Mohamed al-Thani, SCH’s director of public health; Abdul Latif Mohamed al-Khal, senior consultant, Infectious Diseases, Hamad Medical Corporation; Dr Juliet Ibrahim, clinical Affairs executive director Primary Health Care Corporation, and several officials from SCH were present during the briefing.
Dr al-Marri said: “There were nine cases of Mers CoV in Qatar from November 2013 to May 2014. Out of them six were Qataris and three were non-Qataris. Among the nine, there was only one female affected with the virus. At present there is no case of Mers reported in the country or anyone undergoing treatment.”
“Mers CoV continues to be present among dromedary camels in Qatar. Evidence of virus shedding has been found from camels sampled from different locations. Shedding most frequently occurs from nasal secretions, but approximately 20% of virus-positive animals also shed virus from faeces.”
“According to the data collected, there is a possibility for contamination of meat during the slaughter process, as 13% of lymph node samples tested positive for viral Ribonucleic Acid (RNA). At this moment it is not known if the presence of virus RNA in lymph nodes implies that animal meat can contain infectious virus.”
The SCH official highlighted that in the survey of milking camels, testing of milk showed evidence of viral (RNA) in more than half of samples from animals shedding virus.
“As the milk was collected according to local customs, contamination of milk during the process cannot be excluded. All milk samples tested positive for Mers CoV antibodies,” he added.
Another major finding was that persons working with animals were tested for presence of antibodies to Mers CoV, as these indicate past infection. In total, 8.7% of persons with close camel contact had evidence of antibodies, compared to 0% of persons without animal or only sheep contact in Qatar and Europe. None of these persons reported severe illness.