Deadly MERS virus detected in camels

Deadly MERS virus detected in camels
But it's not clear what role animals play in its transmission to humans.

(HealthDay)—Scientists say they have the first definitive proof that a deadly respiratory virus in the Middle East infects camels in addition to humans.

The finding may help researchers find ways to control the spread of the .

Using gene sequencing, the research team found that three camels from a site where two people contracted Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) were also infected with the virus.

The location was a small livestock barn in Qatar. In October, the 61-year-old barn owner was diagnosed with MERS, followed by a 23-year-old man who worked at the barn.

Within a week of the barn owner's diagnosis, samples were collected from 14 dromedary camels at the barn. The samples were sent to laboratories in the Netherlands for genetic analysis and antibody testing.

The genetic analyses confirmed the presence of MERS in three camels. Genetically, the viruses in the camels were very similar—but not identical—to those that infected the barn owner and worker.

All 14 camels had antibodies to MERS, which suggests that the virus had been circulating among them for some time, enabling most of them to develop immunity against infection, according to the study published Dec. 17 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

While the findings provide proof that camels can be infected with MERS, it's not possible to determine whether the camels infected the two men or vice versa, said the researchers from the Netherlands and Qatar.

It's also possible that the men and the were infected by another as-yet unknown source such as cattle, sheep, goats or wildlife, the researchers added. Further investigation into the infections is under way.

"An understanding of the role of animals in the transmission of (MERS) is urgently needed to inform control efforts," Neil Ferguson and Maria Van Kerkhove, of Imperial College London in England, wrote in an accompanying editorial in the journal. "This virus can spread from person to person, sometimes causing substantial outbreaks, but whether the virus is capable of self-sustained (i.e., epidemic) human-to-human transmission is unknown."

If self-sustained transmission in people is not yet under way, the researchers said, intensive control and risk-reduction measures targeting affected animal species and their handlers might eliminate the virus from the human population. "Conversely, if (animal) exposure causes only a small fraction of human infections, then even intensive veterinary control efforts would have little effect on cases in people," they concluded.

More information: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about MERS.

Related Stories

Qatar reports three camel MERS infections

Nov 28, 2013

Qatar said on Thursday that three camels have been found infected with the MERS coronavirus, in the first case of animals contracting the SARS-like virus in the Gulf state.

Signs of MERS coronavirus found in dromedary camels

Aug 08, 2013

Researchers searching for signs of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in livestock animals have found antibodies specific to the new virus in dromedary camels. The research, published in The Lancet In ...

Qatar announces second MERS virus death

Sep 08, 2013

A Qatari man has died from the MERS coronavirus, becoming the second fatality from the SARS-like virus to be recorded in the Gulf state, health authority said Saturday.

Qatar announces third MERS death

Nov 19, 2013

An expatriate living in Qatar had died after he contracted MERS, bringing to three the number of deaths from the coronavirus in the Gulf state, health authorities said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Africans in New York complain of Ebola stigma

2 hours ago

Members of the west African community in New York complained Wednesday that their children were being bullied at school and businesses were losing money because of hysteria over Ebola.

Ebola expert says China at risk, seeks Japan aid

3 hours ago

A scientist who helped to discover the Ebola virus says he is concerned that the disease could spread to China given the large numbers of Chinese workers traveling to and from Africa.

Study: Young people more likely to survive Ebola

15 hours ago

A new study gives fresh knowledge about who survives Ebola and why. The report by 47 health workers treating patients in Sierra Leone in West Africa is the most detailed description yet of the medical aspects of the current ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.