‘Camel flu’ in Qatar sees returning World Cup footie fans put doctors on alert

As disconsolate England fans trudge home from the World Cup in Qatar, there are concerns that they might be bringing an unwelcome souvenir with them: potentially deadly camel flu.

Camel flu, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), is a a strain of coronavirus that’s far rarer, but also far deadlier than Covid-19.

The disease emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and then eventually spread to all Middle Eastern countries. The virus, which has also been identified in the UK, is commonly spread by contact with camels but cases of human-to-human transmission have also been recorded.

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Dr Sandeep Nayar, Senior Director and HOD at BLK-Max Centre for Chest and Respiratory Diseases in New Delhi, told Indian Express that there are concerns of that a new spike in infections could be driven by the vast influx of football fans into Qatar.

He said: “So those with symptoms, who are living in a cluster, are more exposed to getting immersed."

Like many respiratory viruses, MERS causes shortness of breath and coughs, usually accompanied by high temperature.

“There’s a dry cough and irritation in the upper throat,” Dr Neha Rastogi, explains. “In occasional cases, it can also cause pneumonia-like conditions which may lead to the patient’s hospitalisation. Severe cases have also resulted in death,” she adds.

Some 2,600 cases were recorded between April 2012 and October 2022 across 12 countries in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. One in three people who caught the virus did not survive.

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With thousands of fans gathering in Qatar for football’s biggest tournament, and returning to their home having potentially picked up the virus, medics are concerned that the infection could spread dramatically.

As the tournament began, Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia told The Sun: "Fans should steer clear of camels in Qatar.

"That's the common sense advice to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

"It's a nasty bug, much deadlier than Covid-19 with a very high mortality rate, and there is currently no effective vaccine."

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