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Warning over ‘camel flu’ at World Cup, as expert list MERS among eight disease threats in Qatar

FOOTBALL fans at the World Cup in Qatar have been warned over the threat from eight diseases, including the deadly MERS.

Experts backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) fear Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS or “camel flu,” could spread during the current tournament in the Middle Eastern country.

Fans cheer on England during their World Cup opening game against Iran in Qatar
Fans travelling to Qatar for the World Cup have been advised to avoid touching the mammals as they can carry MERS, which is related to Covid
England made a convincing start to their World Cup campaign with a 6-2 win over Iran

MERS is a deadlier cousin of Covid and kills up to a third of everyone who becomes infected.

Disease experts included MERS and one of eight potential “infection risks” would could theoretically crop up while the World Cup is taking place.

Also on the list was Covid and Monkeypox, which were seen as the two most likely threats.

According to a paper written by three academics and published in the journal New Microbes and New Infections, the World Cup “unavoidably poses infectious disease risks”.

Professor Patricia Schlagenhauf, an epidemiologist from the WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Travellers’ Health, and team said this applied to Qatar as well as neighbouring countries.

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia, which borders Qatar, a decade ago.

The experts suggested illnesses could also be exported to other countries, such as Britain, due to the volume of fans who have travelled to Qatar to watch the footballing spectacle.

An estimated 5,000 England and Wales fans are thought to be heading to the Arab state to watch the group stages of the competition.



In total, around 1.2million supporters are expected to travel to Qatar for the tournament.

Only five cases of MERS have been recorded in Britain, with the most recent case being in August 2018 when a traveller returned from the Middle East.

Health experts say that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Camels are believed to be the natural host of the virus, which comes from the same family as the virus behind the Covid pandemic.

Travellers to the region are advised to avoid touching the mammals.

People should also avoid drinking camel milk or urine or eat camel meat that has not been properly cooked, infectious disease scientists behind the latest warning said.

Anyone returning to Britain with any MERS symptoms, which are similar to those of a cold or flu, are told to get medical advice and share their travel history, so infection control and testing can be carried out.

There is no specific treatment for the illness and doctors work to ease a patient’s symptoms.

Around 35 per cent of those who get MERS die as a result. 

Dr Jaffar Al-Tawfiq, an infectious disease consultant at Saudi Arabia’s Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, and Dr Philippe Gautret, from Aix Marseille University in France, were the other two researchers.

The symptoms of MERS include a fever, cough, breathing difficulties, diarrhoea and vomiting
England fans gather outside the stadium in Doha for the team’s first group game

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