Think twice before trying camel burger on holiday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 4:18am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 4:18am

Riding camels, eating them and drinking their raw milk: all are actions travellers should avoid, according to researchers who suspect the animal is a main source of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus.

Palm dates might also be off the menu for the more cautious traveller, as bats infected with the virus may have urinated on the fruit while feeding, warned the University of Hong Kong's chair of infectious diseases Professor Yuen Kwok-yung.

The major sources of infection with Mers were through direct or indirect contact with animals hosting the virus - camels and bats - and visiting medical facilities where infected patients were being treated, Yuen said.

"Though the Middle East is the at-risk area for Mers, we should not consume anything uncooked while travelling," he added.

He said that bats urinating on date palm trees had helped to transmit the Nipah virus on the Indian subcontinent, and that the same process could be occurring with Mers.

People with diabetes, chronic lung disease, renal failure and those who have any immunodeficiency are at particular risk of Mers. They should take precautions when visiting farms, barn areas or market environments where camels are present, according to the World Health Organisation.

The university has identified several possible ways of treating Mers. Yuen said a recent finding of two antibodies that protect host cells from the virus was "the one with the best outlook so far".

A team in the US has found seven antibodies that can serve a similar function. Their study was published on Monday, the same day as a study by a team of Hong Kong and mainland scientists that included Yuen.

Yuen's team had a particular interest in Mers because in 2006 it had found two bat viruses that were the closest known relative to Mers and may be its ancestors.