World Cup fans in Qatar warned of virus that could lead to severe health problems: What is camel flu?

The 2022 World Cup is entering its final phase, and according to several health professionals, those who have been in Qatar may have been exposed to 'camel flu'.

What is camel flu?
© AntonioGuillem GETTY_IMAGES
What is camel flu?

The World Cup began on 18 November and will end on 18 December with a final that has yet to be decided. Following the quarter-finals, many fans whose team has been eliminated are already heading home. But according to several health organisations, these fans may have been exposed to a potentially dangerous virus.

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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Officially discovered in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus. It is a different virus from the one that causes Covid-19 and SARS, but its effects are similar.

According to the WHO:

The usual symptoms of MERS include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but MERS patients do not always develop this condition. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhoea, have also been reported in these patients.

MERS, or MERS-CoV, is nicknamed the 'camel flu' because of its mode of transmission. It is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals (such as camels) to humans. According to the Organisation, 35% of cases have resulted in the death of the infected person.

Should we be concerned about MERS?

In a weekly bulletin published on 6 November, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) indicated that, due to the massive gatherings in Qatar for the World Cup, there were several 'potential threats' to health. Among these threats, the ECDC listed Covid-19, monkeypox and MERS. However, cases of infection remain very rare:

Over the past five years, Qatar has reported between one and three cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) per year (2 cases in 2022, 25 since 2003). coronavirus (MERS-CoV) per year (2 cases in 2022, 25 in total since 2003).

And while the ECDC is closely monitoring the evolution of MERS, there is no cause for concern. Interviewed by 20 Minutes, virologist Vincent Enouf, from the Pasteur Institute, said:

There may be an overestimation of the real mortality rate, because mild cases of MERS-CoV may have escaped the existing surveillance systems

Furthermore, he said:

MERS has limited human-to-human transmissibility, otherwise lower than Covid-19, and this disease is 'not a major concern' within his Institute.

Finally, in the absence of a vaccine, the methods for preventing the virus are more or less the same as those for Covid-19: the WHO recommends regular hand washing, avoiding contact with camels and eating badly cooked meat.

This article was translated from Gentside FR.

Sources Used:

-OMS: Coronavirus du syndrome respiratoire du Moyen-Orient (MERS-CoV)

-ECDC: Communicable Disease Threats Report

-20 Minutes: Coupe du monde 2022: Le virus du chameau sévit au Qatar, faut-il en avoir peur?

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