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Scientists rack brains over deadly MERS virus in Gulf

Scientists rack brains over deadly MERS virus in Gulf
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A deadly new virus spreading across the Gulf states is baffling scientists.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is known as a coronavirus because of its crown-like shape under a microscope.

Every day sees new infections in several countries and in recent weeks deaths have been reported in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The World Health Organisation has offered to send experts to both countries to assess the spread of the virus and the risk.

MERS is considered to be less contagious but more deadly than the related SARS virus which killed nearly 800 people over a decade ago.

“Most of the cases reported are the people who are already suffering from some other disease. Now, these people are the ones who are getting infection from somewhere. How have they acquired that infection? That’s what we don’t know. But when these people come to the hospital – or they are in the home environment – those people who come in contact for a long period with them – they get infected even if they are not chronic sufferers,” said Doctor Ram Mohan Shukla, specialist in infectious diseases at the al-Zahra hospital in Sharjah, near Dubai.

Experts say even though a vaccine could be developed, practically it would not make sense.

The virus can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia – with a reported death rate of 30 percent.

“I’m really scared because I think they should give us more information on what safety measures to take and how to keep ourselves away from it,” said a young woman in Dubai.

Researchers are trying to identify the source of the virus: it is thought it could have come from bats – or camels. Given the high value of these animals in the Gulf, even the idea of a possible cull is horrifying.

Euronews correspondent in the Gulf François Chignac said: “If the studies conclude that camels are indeed the origin of the virus, it risks sending cultural shockwaves across the Gulf. Here camels are bred as domestic animals. Lined up on racetracks that from September to March, they make up one of the region’s most deep-rooted sporting traditions.”

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