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The Power of Two

Camels and Needles

Published May 15, 2014 5:23 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Just about everyone is familiar with the expression, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven.” This ancient expression is attributed to the fact that, in the Middle East, there was an entryway or gate called “The Eye of the Needle” that lead into the town of Jerusalem. Supposedly, this entry way was notorious for being nearly impossible to get through due to caravans of traffic. Merchants’ camels carrying products to sell literally had to wait for days to enter into the great city.

Well almost ironically, camels are the vehicle for a virus to swiftly enter out of the gates of a Middle East region. As laboratorians, I am sure that you have heard of the relatively newest virus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which is similar to SARS but reportedly more deadly. It was uncovered less than two years ago in 2012, and since that time, a total of 92 deaths worldwide have been attributed to it.

Virologists have been able to isolate the orthopoxvirus to camels. According to the health officials in Saudi Arabia, it seems the disease can be contacted by close contact with camels, consumption of improperly cooked camel meat or drinking camel milk. Once infected, the ill person can infect another human who has not had contact with camels.

The World Health Organization (WHO) realizes that many citizens may not live near a camel, but the agency warns to use caution of a potential outbreak due to frequent and rapid global air travels. For example, cases are not only occurring in Arabia. There have been cases reported in Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Tunisia, Oman, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

The primary source of the virus has been identified. Another good piece of news is that vaccination of camels to combat MERS is underway.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health organization (WHO) are working collaboratively to monitor and address global solutions. Both agencies are alerting citizens via public health alerts to be watchful of flu-symptoms including fever and cough, diarrhea and shortness of breath. Untreated MERS can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

There has been a breakthrough in that lab scientists and public health officials are pushing to inoculate camels, so as to reduce the likelihood of humans becoming infected. An animal vaccine is available to provide long tern protection against Camelpox virus.


posted by Eleanor Wolfram


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