W2 Reflection: Respiratory Viruses Amongst Middle Easterners


“Biologically discrete races don’t exist.”

While race and genetics have a big influence on our health, it is important to understand that our race is not genetic. When people think of different races, they immediately look at the disparities in skin and hair color. But race and ethnicity are so much more than that…what makes a race is its social construct. Our race comprises our culture, language, religion, and lifestyles, all of which influence our health and could be why certain racial groups are more likely to be susceptible to specific illnesses. For example, Type 2 Diabetes is most prevalent amongst the Pima Indians. This is likely due to the phenomenon of genetic drift.  Genetics do indeed play a role in determining our health, however, I believe that environmental factors ultimately make a larger effect, and the environment can tie in with our race/ethnicities in terms of what we eat, hobbies, exercise, etc, thus affecting our health.

I am Middle Eastern so I chose to focus on the prevalence of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  MERS is a very severe and relatively new disease (first identified in 2012) that is caused by a coronavirus.  It causes fever, persistent coughing, and shortness of breath.  All infected individuals have been somehow linked to Saudi Arabia.  It is commonly transmitted when caring for infected people, mainly in healthcare settings.

The source of MERS has not yet been identified but it is most likely from an animal (most likely camels).  I think that MERS is confined to the Middle East because in our culture, we come into contact with and own a lot of farm animals.  Growing up in Iraq, each of my parents and their families had anything from dogs to sheep to camels.  Considering the reservoir for MERS is thought to be in camels, it makes sense that the illness is common there.  The Middle East is full of camels as they are used for transportation and sport and many people have them as pets.  They frequently handle their sick animals and end up catching the disease themselves.  If there are any genetic factors, it has yet to be identified as the disease was only discovered a few years back.

Virology Down Under. “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).” Last modified May 3, 2014. http://uq.edu.au/vdu/VDUMERSCoronavirus.htm

One thought on “W2 Reflection: Respiratory Viruses Amongst Middle Easterners

  1. Hello Michelle, I chose your post because the quote you used as an introduction caught my eye. I thought your description of race was well thought out and I appreciated how you explained that race is not a predominant factor in determining health. As you know, race describes a shared heritage in a population but it describes little about the overall health of that population.

    Genetic and environmental factors are responsible for an individual’s health, not race. I believed you made an excellent distinction between race and genetics but I wished you had gone into more depth about environmental influences. However, in your description of MERS you went into depth about how the livestock in the Middle East contribute to the spread of this specific illness, perfectly describing an environmental influence.

    Clinical studies often focus their research on specific races but I do not think that is the best way to discern health disparities. I think it would be more accurate to focus on environmental factors and commonalities in lifestyle instead of race. For example, focusing on low income families, fast food diets, or heroin use in rural towns are all more accurate topics for discerning health disparities than race; which I believe to be far too broad for a study. Overall, great post this week and I hope you have continued success – Samantha

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