Scientists have warned that the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar “unavoidably poses potential infectious disease risks”. While their main concerns are COVID-19 and monkeypox, they also put forward a warning for another ugly member of the coronavirus gang: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Between November 20 to December 18, 2022, around 1.5 million visitors from all continents will be flocking to Qatar to watch the 2022 FIFA World Cup in what will be one of the biggest international events since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mass gatherings like this always pose some kind of infectious disease risk, but the researchers on a new study argue that the threat is particularly high this year considering the ongoing health crises riddling the globe.
Along with warnings of COVID-19 and monkeypox, the trio of researchers also highlight the threat of MERS that fans should be aware of in Qatar. This paper isn’t alone in its worries. A recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also warned that “potential threats during the World Cup include COVID-19, MERS-CoV and monkeypox.”
Camels in the Middle East are the main source of the virus. Image credit: Cristian Dobre/Shutterstock.com
Just like COVID-19, MERS is caused by a coronavirus. It is believed that the virus originated in bats, but camels are common reservoirs of the pathogen and are often responsible for infected people. Typically symptoms are similar to COVID-19, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
MERS was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has since caused 2,600 cases with 935 associated deaths in 27 different countries. Most cases have remained in Saudi Arabia – 2,193 reported cases and 854 deaths – but there have been a small yet significant number of cases elsewhere in the Middle East, including Qatar.
Qatar, which has a population of 2.9 million, has seen 28 cases of MERS in total. In 2022 alone, they have documented three cases. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the researchers argue that people at risk of developing diseases, such as those with weak immune systems, should be aware of the risk and try to avoid all contact with camels.
“Epidemiologic data from Qatar showed the occurrence of 28 cases of MERS (incidence of 1.7 per 1,000,000 population) and most cases had a history of contact with camels. Thus, people with greater risk of developing severe disease are advised to avoid contact with dromedary camels, drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked,” the study authors write.
The pre-proof paper was recently published in the journal New Microbes and New Infections.