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The biotechnology firm Novavax (Gaithersburg, USA) and researchers of the University of Maryland School of Medicine have reportedly created an experimental vaccine against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The current outbreak of MERS evolved significantly and protecting human infections and preventing a human pandemic is currently part of the global agenda. The vaccine is still considered highly experimental and would need additional safety and efficacy tests before it could be used in humans. But researchers contend their findings are a promising development for health officials.
Besides the aspects of human infection, the outbreak of this contagious disease is a phenomenon that is unprecedented in the Middle East. For many Saudis, the idea that camels – a beloved national symbol that literally made settlement of that arid region possible – could carry a disease deadly to humans is simply unthinkable, given the widespread outrage and disbelief among camel owners who insist on the innocence of their stock, and the numerous stories in the Arabic press.
For farmers it is hard to accept the current reality, due to the widespread belief in the healthful effects of camel’s milk and urine in the treatment of disease. It will be difficult to convince breeders and owners to limit their contact with camels, and to use PPEs (masks, gloves, protective clothing) when in close contact with their animals. Still, this is urgently needed to prevent animal-to-human infection.
It is a very tough decision for the Saudi Government to put forward to their farmers. Simultaneously, it might be invertible to prepare for an emergency response situation where all camels need to be culled in an effort to stamp out the source of infection. In order to carry out such strategy, techniques are needed to prevent further spreading through humans who have been involved in carrying out the stamping out procedures, including culling and disposal, cleaning & disinfection, etc.