Jiddah (KON) – Saudi Arabia authorities believe that the MERS virus came from African camels and may prohibit camel imports until further investigation.
“We do have suspicions that the disease may have been imported through camel trade from the Horn of Africa, but we haven’t proved it yet,” the Health Ministry’s scientific advisory board head Tariq Madani said. He added that the final decision to prohibit camel imports from the Horn of Africa depends on the country’s agriculture ministry which has not released an official prohibition for the importation of camels yet. However, Madani admits that colleagues have already told him it is under consideration.
Saudi Arabia has always imported Horn of Africa camels but because authorities suspect that these are MERS carriers, they would have to stop importation until they get more information on whether the camels are infected or not. Scientific research will be done to identify the source of the infection in humans and how it is actually transmitted but it has already been established that the virus’ animal reservoir is probably the camels.
MERS is a zoonotic disease and the ministry is collaborating with the agriculture ministry to determine the possible sources of the virus. The country has been criticized for how it is handling the outbreak which health experts around the world say could’ve been under control earlier if scientists and authorities in the country were more willing to participate on studies.
Somalia exported around 4.7 million animals last year, including about 80 percent of goats and sheep, followed by other cattle and camels. Health authorities will look for camel and human cases of MERS outside the UAE and Saudi Arabia and in the African Horn and Somalia ports. If the virus is found in camels there, scientists will investigate why the virus is not in humans there, too. Samples are being taken from camels in seaports and people handling these to test for antibodies. The prohibition will severely impact Somalia, which imported 4.8 million animals to Saudi Arabia in 2012.
The Horn of Africa is a section of eastern Africa that generally is considered made up of all or parts of the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.