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As the Football World Cup begins on November 20 for an entire month, the authorities on site are alerting supporters: some camels are said to be infected with a potentially fatal virus. They advise not to approach it.
A priori, nothing links the Football World Cup to the state of health of camels in their natural environment… except when the competition is held in Qatar, a country concerned precisely by this virus transmissible from animals to humans. . And that a wave of supporters/tourists is about to break. A few days before the initial kick-off, the local authorities therefore made a preventive announcement: that of not approaching camels and dromedaries, potentially carriers, to avoid contamination with MERS, more commonly known as “camel virus”.
What is this “camel disease”?
MERS, an acronym for “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” is another coronavirus-like disease that was detected in 2012, first in Saudi Arabia, before spreading beyond. The origin of this disease would be linked to the drought: with global warming, many breeders of water-hungry cows have preferred camels and dromedaries. But the increasingly dense herds added to the promiscuity with men have created fertile ground for the spread of viruses.
The so-called zoonotic disease, which is transmissible from animals to humans, causes fever, cough, shortness of breath, pneumonia and possible gastric disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “theSerious forms of the disease can lead to respiratory failure and lead to death in the most vulnerable people”. According to official figures, MERS is fatal in 35% of cases, much more than Covid.
The WHO concedes, however, that many mild cases may have escaped its surveillance and therefore do not appear in its current statistics. In Qatar, 28 cases have been reported resulting in 7 deaths since 2012, particularly among people working with these camelids.
What is the risk of contamination to humans?
In countries that have seen a few cases, camels and dromedaries are the primary vectors of MERS. In all likelihood, however, a wide spread is not on the agenda: only prolonged contact with animals or the consumption of poorly prepared or cooked camel meat pose a real risk. The theory of contamination between humans remains possible, but very rare.
For Jean-Claude Manuguerra, head of the Biological Emergency Response Unit at the Institut Pasteur, consulted on the subject, the situation is not particularly alarming:
“This cousin of Sars-CoV 2 infects the deep voices, like SARS, but it remains very little transmissible. The fact that it is not contagious before the appearance of symptoms means that we can quickly break an epidemic chain. The number of victims has been very limited since 2012, and healthy people are generally doing well. Nevertheless, this MERS can be fatal for fragile people.
The chances of contracting this virus among supporters who have made the trip also remain low.
“It is a virus introduced by camelids, but what you need to know is that it reappears regularly by seasonality” says our expert. Thus, 80% of adult camelids carry antibodies. But during the births of small camels, and in particular during their weaning, these more sensitive specimens and without antibodies can experience diarrheal episodes and contaminate humans.
“This is especially the case for breeders, people who work with camels and dromedaries, but it can also be with tourists who have come to visit these newcomers. specifies the specialist. Adding however that, even the great influxes past, in particular in Saudi Arabia during pilgrimages to Mecca, have never exploded the contaminations.
Under these conditions, Qatar has therefore not launched any specific plan on the spot to avoid an epidemic. No restrictions on travel and trade, nor the introduction of screening procedures at the entrance of countries have come into force. Only a warning concerning the teams on site and the supporters was issued.
The goal is to bring the cup home, but not the MERS.