Fun ride camels need to be tested for Mers: Expert

Filed on May 9, 2014

Scientific director of the CVRL says it is important to scree the camels after scientists establish the link between camels and Mers-CoV.

Camels used for giving tourists fun rides need to be screened for corona virus, which causes Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), the UAE’s top veterinary expert in the disease has said.

With scientists establishing the link between camels and Mers-CoV, it is important to screen these camels, said Professor Ulli Wernery, the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) in Dubai.

“We do not want any tourists to catch the disease. That would be the worst scenario here,” he told Khaleej Times.

Tour companies that provide camel riding should seek the help of veterinarians to collect nasal swab of camels and get them tested, he said.

“It is an easy, but a very important precautionary measure.”

Though the number of camels used by tour operators would not be too high, the scientist said it is important to focus on them since hundreds of tourists come in close contact with them. Last week, Prof. Wernery had advised that tourists should refrain from touching and kissing camels. “Once these camels are tested and everything is found safe, then there is no need to worry.”

“Though we are only talking about camels now, we should broaden our views and look at other animals too as we don’t know (how) camels ... get the virus,” said the expert, who last week attended a top meeting on Mers in Saudi Arabia. Researchers at CVRL are now collecting samples from rodents, gazelles and other animals from the desert to find out the possibility of any of them being a reservoir of the virus.

The Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL), which is the only high-security lab that has collected samples from hundreds of rodents, has sent 200 samples — mainly from camel farms — for tests at the Institute of Virology at Bonn in Germany.

“Though we have the capacity to test them for the viruses, we sent them to Germany at the request of the scientist who discovered that the strain of virus in camels and infected people was the same. We are expecting the results from there in two or three weeks.”

Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) is now testing samples from all types of species that reach the lab. All 25 camels in the lab’s facility have already tested negative.

“However, we found antibodies in the frozen samples kept at the lab for years which indicates that the virus has been here for many years. So, we need to find out where it came from.

“We’ve got some samples from gazelles, as well. We need to check gazelles, since it has already been found that camels had contracted TB from gazelles in the desert some years back,” he said.

Every day, the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL ) receives five to 10 dead animals for autopsy. The common causes of death are pneumonia, diarrhea, and various deficiencies.

“The owners must know why they died. If it is found that they died due to any infectious disease, the Ministry (of Environment and Water Authority) and the municipality are informed.”

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