The Saudi Cover-up of One of The Top Potential Pandemic Threats

“Scientists say what stands out about the MERS virus is just how little the world knows about it, even though for almost two years it has been viewed as one of the top potential pandemic threats by a global network of specialists who keep tabs on all emerging viruses.”

So says Reuters in an article just released today explaining Saudi cover-up while investigating the MERS disease.

There is much to how this disease is acquired than what has been told and scientists still have many questions un-answered.

There are nations who realize the potential threat. In fact, just today, as obtained from Middle Eastern sources, Tunisia is issuing a ban asking Tunisians not to go to the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

The director of the Tunisian National Health Watch for New Diseases and Noureddine Ben Ashur even advised Tunisians to currently postpone doing the Hajj to Mecca this coming year in October because of the rapid spread of infection with Corona in Saudi Arabia.

And now Reuters disclose much on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to cover-up the issues regarding MERS.

The story starts in a north London laboratory on a Saturday in September 2012, an email arrived from a team of virologists in the Netherlands that spooked even some of the world’s most seasoned virus handlers.

It contained details of a mysterious viral pathogen that had been found in two patients – a Qatari in intensive care in Britain, and a Saudi who died in a Jeddah hospital of pneumonia and renal failure.

This information-sharing between world-leading specialists proved fruitful: Within days the new virus had been identified as one never seen before in humans, had some of its genes sequenced, and its genetic ancestry published online for scientists around the world to see.

Yet that international collaboration was not to last.

Instead, Western scientists allege, the cooperation gave way to a Saudi culture of suspicion and stubbornness that has allowed the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, as it has become known, to kill more than 175 people in Saudi Arabia, spread throughout the region and reach as far as Malaysia, Greece, Lebanon and – via Britain – the United States.

The disease, like its cousin Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia. More than 650 people worldwide have been infected with it, and MERS is reaching new victims every day in the Saudi kingdom, killing around 30 percent of them.

Experts say these infections and deaths could have been stopped well within the two years since MERS first emerged – and would have been if Saudi authorities had been more open to outside help offered by specialist teams around the world with the technology, know-how and will to conduct vital scientific studies.

But according to scientists involved in tracking MERS over the past two years, the Saudis have rejected repeated offers of help – including from World Health Organisation (WHO) experts, as well as the Dutch specialists at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam and the London team working for Public Health England (PHE).

In Saudi Arabia, no case-control study has been completed, meaning fundamental questions cannot be answered about the virus’ capabilities, where it came from, and what it might do next.

“It’s really a tragedy for these people who get sick,” said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology, chairman of PHE and head of global health security at Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs.

“It’s just so frustrating not to know how people are getting infected and to see people continue to get infected and die from a virus which maybe they wouldn’t have to get if we knew more.”

Scientists say what stands out about the MERS virus is just how little the world knows about it, even though for almost two years it has been viewed as one of the top potential pandemic threats by a global network of specialists who keep tabs on all emerging viruses.

Primary responsibility for the response lies with the Saudi Ministry of Health, which under international health regulations reports to the WHO on MERS cases.

The ministry has from the start worked intermittently with various global agencies and institutions, including the WHO, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Columbia and Ecohealth Alliance. Some of them have expressed frustration about Saudi authorities’ apparent lack of urgency.

The WHO, for example, has conducted several scientific missions to the Middle East, primarily to provide support for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors to start the research needed to get on top of the outbreak. Yet much of this work remains undone.

So far, much evidence points to camels as a possible infection source – with the virus staging a so-called zoonotic event by jumping from animals to people. But scientists still have no idea how people are getting infected, whether by eating camel meat, or drinking the milk, touching blood or other body fluids, or simply being nearby when they cough or sneeze.

“There is so much missing in our knowledge of this infection after 20 months – whether it be the epidemiology, the transmission routes, the virology, or behavioral change,” said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust international charity.

The Saudis have been offered a lot of help, he said, but “they are not open to it.”

Saudi suspicions about working with teams of researchers outside the kingdom – and the Deputy Minister’s desire to stay in control – may have been prompted by precisely the information-sharing that characterized the virus’s first few days, interviews with key scientists and public health officials involved in tracking MERS since 2012 suggest. Memish did not respond to that suggestion.

Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian microbiologist working at the Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, found and reported the first MERS patient by posting lab results on an international scientific website. Zaki was sacked within a week of going public about the new virus. He has since returned to his native Egypt and now works at the faculty of medicine at Cairo’s Ain Shams University.

“I lost my job because of this discovery,” he told Reuters. No-one at the Jeddah hospital could be contacted for comment.

Others who worked with Saudi scientists at the very beginning of the outbreak, when MERS had not even been named and was only just starting to be investigated, say Saudi authorities – and Memish in particular – wanted an increasing level of control.

Ian Lipkin, a Jewish virologist at New York’s Columbia University, was among the first to establish a link between the MERS virus and camels. Lipkin told Reuters that he initially worked with Memish, but the two fell out. “I haven’t worked with him in six months. We no longer work together at all,” he said.

Lipkin declined to give details, saying only: “We’re just not in agreement on many things.”

Perhaps the Saudis thought that blaming the camel was a Zionist conspiracy !?

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s head of health security, has also been careful not to directly criticize Saudi authorities.

Middle East media are ignoring the cause. If one searches Google News for Corona Virus in the Arabic language, there are 141,000 hits, but if one adds “Camel Urine” in the search with “Corona” one gets only 6 hits.

Its not much different in the English which gains 45 millions hits on Google News search, but adding “Camel Urine” only gets 7 hits.

It says much on the efforts to combat MERS. Political correctness is exercised in the same fashion as Terrorism. But perhaps the Saudis are embarrassed to have the world write on how they love to drink camel urine as much as Russians love to drink Vodka?

For more on Saudi habits westerners do not tell you that we believe is connected to MERS read’s previous research [here, here, and here]