Shisha cafe culture may spread MERS faster


The shisha cafe culture may further exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries, said a senior physiology professor at King Saud University (KSU) on Wednesday.

Sultan Ayoub Meo, professor and consultant at KSU’s King Khalid University Hospital, said that shisha (hubble-bubble) smokers run a high risk of transmission of this deadly respiratory disease among their friends and relatives.

Meo, who is currently supervising a research project on the hazards of shisha smoking, raised this sensitive issue of shisha smokers being more prone to contracting the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus than others.

“A cigarette smoker typically takes in between eight and 12 puffs, inhaling 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke,” he said. “By contrast, shisha smokers may take up to 200 drags ranging from 0.15 to 1 liter of smoke during long smoking sessions while sharing the same water pipe that may contain infected saliva.”

“The greater the exposure in terms of duration and amount smoked, the greater the risk of getting MERS,” he said.

The KSU professor also voiced concerns over the growing trend of shisha-smoking, which is gaining popularity among male and female youngsters in the high income segment and also among urban and rural populations in the Middle East.

“A shisha smoking session lasts for between 30 and 60 minutes. Such a time duration is sufficient to transmit the virus,” Meo said. “The indoor air pollution and the possible exchange of saliva while sharing the same water pipe makes shisha smokers more prone to infection.”

“As such, shisha smokers are at a high risk of transmission,” said Meo, who is credited with the publication of many books and more than 100 research papers in reputable scientific journals across the globe.

He said the ban on shishas will help in minimizing the incidence and spread of this deadly respiratory disease.

He said that MERS coronavirus has swiftly spread from the Middle East across the globe.
“The prevalence of shisha-smoking, which ranges from 10-34 percent among the Middle Eastern population, including the Kingdom, can further transmit the virus,” he said.

He pointed out the virus has infected individuals in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, the UAE, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Britain, Tunisia, Malaysia, Philippines and the US.

MERS, he said, is “zoonotic, and the majority of reported human cases are of people who live or have traveled to Middle East countries.”

“The virus spreads from person to person through close contact, such as living with an infected person, coughing and sneezing,” he said. “In scientific literature, it has been reported that respiratory aspirates and tracheal fluid yield a higher MERS-CoV viral load.”

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