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MERS virus camel warning

The World Health Organization is stepping up its warnings about contact with camels, urging people to avoid some camel products because they may pose a risk for contracting the MERS virus.

The WHO says people who are at high risk of severe illness if they catch MERS should not have contact with camels, should only consume well-cooked camel meat and pasteurized camel milk and should not drink camel urine, believed by some to have medicinal qualities.

MERS is short for Middle East respiratory syndrome and is caused by a coronavirus of the same name; it is a cousin of the virus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak.

The virus currently seems to kill about 30 per cent of known cases, though experts acknowledge that figure could be artificially high because testing is mainly geared to finding those who are seriously ill.

The number of diagnosed cases of the new disease have soared over the past six weeks, especially in Saudi Arabia where the bulk of infections have been detected.

In the face of growing concern, on Tuesday the WHO will reconvene an expert panel, known as an Emergency Committee, to advise it on whether MERS should be declared a public health emergency of international concern.

This will be the fifth meeting of the advisory group, which in each previous gathering has expressed concern but said the situation did not meet the threshold for a public health emergency.

"Camel meat and camel milk are nutritious products that can continue to be consumed after pasteurization, cooking, or other heat treatments," an updated WHO document states.

The summary also provides some detail on a simultaneous, though smaller, surge in cases in the United Arab Emirates. Since late March, the U.A.E. has reported 37 cases to the WHO; two-thirds of the cases have been in health-care workers involved in a large cluster of mostly mild cases.

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