Experts watching MERS have been nervous about the Hajj, but last week in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the Kingdom’s point man for MERS, Dr. Ziad Memish, said he takes heart from the fact no MERS infections were spotted in foreign pilgrims who took part in the earlier Umrah pilgrimage, over Ramadan in July and early August.
“For the Ministry of Health, the Umrah is a test run for the Hajj,” Memish, the deputy health minister, told the WSJ. “It gives us an indication of how ready our public health system is to deal with the Hajj.”
But Dr. Tony Mounts of the World Health Organization sees something else in the fact that Umrah pilgrims appeared not to contract MERS while in Saudi Arabia. For Mounts, it’s a clue.
The global health agency’s technical lead on MERS, Mounts has been studying the pattern of infections looking for signs that could shed light on how people are contracting the coronavirus, which is a cousin of SARS. The source of the virus is still a mystery.
In the early days of MERS, most infections were seen in men, often older men. That’s not because the virus has a gender preference. Something men, older men in particular, did was putting them in the way of the virus. (Lately the gender and age imbalance of cases has been evening out.) Was it attending camel races or drinking raw camel milk? Or something else entirely?
Disease detectives didn’t crack the mystery of how people are contracting MERS with the older men clue, but Mounts thinks something could be learned about the source of the virus from puzzling out why pilgrims haven’t been infected.Click through for the rest of her post and some important links.