WHO: To Avoid MERS, Don’t Drink Camel Urine

Camel urine is consumed in some parts of the Middle East for its allegedly palliative properties.

GettyImages-83259680crrop
GettyImages-83259680crrop

Six people have died, 87 have been infected, and some 1,800 schools and kindergartens have temporarily shut their doors amid an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea. It’s likely the most significant outbreak of the disease outside the Middle East, and over the weekend, the World Health Organization released details on new cases of the disease in South Korea. It also issued a surprising piece of advice for individuals seeking to avoid infection: Drink neither raw camel milk nor camel urine.

That’s perhaps not as strange as it sounds. While the exact transmission mechanisms remain unclear, it is thought that the disease has its origins in bats and that camels may serve as a transmission point to humans. And in parts of the Middle East, drinking camel urine is not as uncommon as one might think. In parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the liquid is consumed for its allegedly palliative properties. The Prophet Mohammed is said to have informed his followers to drink camel urine to cure them of disease.

In 2013, an intrepid reporter for Vice sampled the substance while in Yemen. “The taste of warm piss is, as you would expect, disgusting,” he wrote. “But when it’s mixed with camel milk, as it traditionally is, it’s even worse. Getting rid of the musky aftertaste that takes over your mouth after the first sip is impossible.”

Six people have died, 87 have been infected, and some 1,800 schools and kindergartens have temporarily shut their doors amid an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea. It’s likely the most significant outbreak of the disease outside the Middle East, and over the weekend, the World Health Organization released details on new cases of the disease in South Korea. It also issued a surprising piece of advice for individuals seeking to avoid infection: Drink neither raw camel milk nor camel urine.

That’s perhaps not as strange as it sounds. While the exact transmission mechanisms remain unclear, it is thought that the disease has its origins in bats and that camels may serve as a transmission point to humans. And in parts of the Middle East, drinking camel urine is not as uncommon as one might think. In parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the liquid is consumed for its allegedly palliative properties. The Prophet Mohammed is said to have informed his followers to drink camel urine to cure them of disease.

In 2013, an intrepid reporter for Vice sampled the substance while in Yemen. “The taste of warm piss is, as you would expect, disgusting,” he wrote. “But when it’s mixed with camel milk, as it traditionally is, it’s even worse. Getting rid of the musky aftertaste that takes over your mouth after the first sip is impossible.”

Health researchers have also warned that Saudi camel traders may be another possible point of transmission for MERS. By drinking raw camel milk, they warn, the traders may be unwittingly transferring the disease from their herds to the human population.

Since 2012, the WHO has documented 1,190 cases of MERS with at least 440 deaths.

Photo credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Twitter: @EliasGroll

More from Foreign Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden listens to remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 19.
U.S. President Joe Biden listens to remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 19.

Russia’s Defeat Would Be America’s Problem

Victory in Ukraine could easily mean hubris in Washington.

Russian and Belarusian troops take part in joint military exercises.
Russian and Belarusian troops take part in joint military exercises.

Russia’s Stripped Its Western Borders to Feed the Fight in Ukraine

But Finland and the Baltic states are still leery of Moscow’s long-term designs.

Electricity pylons are shown under cloudy skies during rainfall near Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 15.
Electricity pylons are shown under cloudy skies during rainfall near Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 15.

Europe’s Energy Crisis Is Destroying the Multipolar World

The EU and Russia are losing their competitive edge. That leaves the United States and China to duke it out.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces new European Union energy policies at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, on Sept. 7.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces new European Union energy policies at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, on Sept. 7.

With Winter Coming, Europe Is Walking Off a Cliff

Europeans won’t escape their energy crisis as long as ideology trumps basic math.