Mers outbreak: Don't drink potentially fatal camel urine, WHO warns

World Health Organisation has warned people to observe 'food hygiene practices' to prevent its spread

Tom Brooks-Pollock
Thursday 11 June 2015 10:24 BST
A medical worker from South Korea handles a sample tube from a man suspected of carrying the MERS virus
A medical worker from South Korea handles a sample tube from a man suspected of carrying the MERS virus

The World Health Organisation has warned against drinking camel urine as it attempts to limit the latest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).

Seven people in South Korea have died as a result of Mers in the latest outbreak, the largest since the syndrome was first detected in the Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Authorities in Seoul confirmed the seventh death, of a 68-year-old woman who had a pre-existing heart condition, on Tuesday. There have been 95 infections and 2,500 people are currently in quarantine in South Korea.

The WHO guidance was issued in response to the infection of a 75-year-old man thousands of miles to the west, in Oman, last week. Mers, caused by a new strain of coronavirus, can affect people and animals, and one theory is that the syndrome started in animals before making the jump to humans.

A medical worker from South Korea with a man suspected of having Mers

Mers has been detected in camels, and humans have contracted Mers after coming into contact with camels. However, doctors are still not sure how how humans become infected.

The man, who was said to be in a stable condition on a hospital isolation ward after testing positive for Mers on 29 May, was reported by WHO to own "a barn with camels and young calves, and [have] frequent contact with them".

WHO said that those with pre-existing conditions including diabetes, renal failure and chronic lung disease are considered to be at high-risk from MERS.

"General hygiene measures" such as avoiding close contact with animals, especially camels, and hand-washing after coming into contact with animals, should be followed, WHO said.

A statement posted on the WHO website adds: "Food hygiene practices should be observed. People should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked."

South Korea's health ministry has reported eight new cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus

Symptoms of Mers, which has killed over 400 people worldwide since September 2012, include fever, cough and breathing difficulties. More than 1100 infections have been confirmed. The first deaths were recorded in Saudi Arabia in June 2012.

The latest outbreak, in South Korea, has prompted Hong Kong and Macau to warn its citizens against non-essential travel to the country. The first South Korean to become infected was a businessman who visited Saudi Arabia for work.

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