Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus detected in the air of a Saudi Arabian camel barn

Saudi Arabian researchers have detected genetic fragments of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the air of a barn holding a camel infected with the virus. The work, published this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, indicates that further studies are needed to see if the disease can be transmitted through the air.

MERS, a serious viral respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, has been identified in 699 people as of June 11, according to the World Health Organization; 209 people have died from the condition. An additional 113 cases occurring between 2012 and 2014 were reported by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health on June 3.

For the study, researchers on three consecutive days last November collected three air samples from a camel barn owned by a 43-year-old male MERS patient who lived south of the town of Jeddah, who later died from the condition. Four of the man's nine camels had shown signs of nasal discharge the week before the patient became ill; he had applied a topical medicine in the nose of one of the ill camels seven days before experiencing symptoms.

Using a laboratory technique called reverse transcription (RT-PCR) to detect gene expression, they found that the first air sample, collected on November 7, contained genetic fragments of MERS-CoV. This was the same day that one of the patient's camels tested positive for the disease. The other samples did not test positive for MERS-CoV, suggesting short or intermittent shedding of the virus into the air surrounding the camels, said lead study author Esam Azhar, PhD, head of the Special Infectious Agents Unit at King Fahd Medical Research Center and associate professor of medical virology at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.

Additional experiments confirmed the presence of MERS-CoV-specific genetic sequences in the first air sample and found that these fragments were exactly identical to fragments detected in the camel and its sick owner.

"The clear message here is that detection of airborne MERS-CoV molecules, which were 100% identical with the viral genomic sequence detected from a camel actively shedding the virus in the same barn on the same day, warrants further investigations and measures to prevent possible airborne transmission of this deadly virus," Azhar said.

"This study also underscores the importance of obtaining a detailed clinical history with particular emphasis on any animal exposure for any MERS-CoV case, especially because recent reports suggest higher risk of MERS-CoV infections among people working with camels," he added.

Meanwhile, he said, mounting evidence for camel-to-human transmission of MERS-CoV warrants taking precautionary measures: People who care for camels or who work for slaughterhouses should wear face masks, gloves and protective clothing, and wash their hands frequently. It is also important to avoid contact with animals that are sick or have tested positive for MERS-CoV. Those who visit camel barns, farms or markets should wash hands before and after contact with animals. In addition, pasteurization of camel milk and proper cooking of meat are strongly recommended.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MERS coronavirus can be transmitted from camel to man

May 02, 2014

The MERS coronavirus is currently spreading very rapidly in the Arab world. An infection could affect human beings as well as camels, and has already cost more than 100 human lives. Scientists at the University ...

Live virus implicates camels in MERS outbreak

Apr 29, 2014

There is new, more definitive evidence implicating camels in the ongoing outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's ...

Saudi MERS death toll reaches 115

May 05, 2014

Saudi health authorities announced on Monday that the death toll from the MERS coronavirus has reached 115 since the respiratory disease first appeared in the kingdom in 2012.

Recommended for you

A multiscale approach to Ebola response

6 minutes ago

The Ebola outbreak in western Africa continues to spread uncontrolled, affecting thus far five countries. On September 16th, President Obama spoke at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters ...

Overwhelmed west Africa ramps up Ebola response

14 hours ago

West Africa intensified its response to the deadly Ebola epidemic on Sunday, with Sierra Leone uncovering scores of dead bodies during a 72-hour shutdown and Liberia announcing hundreds of new hospital beds.

Sierra Leone reaches final day of Ebola lockdown

18 hours ago

Frustrated residents complained of food shortages in some neighborhoods of Sierra Leone's capital on Sunday as the country reached the third and final day of a sweeping, unprecedented lockdown designed to ...

Sierra Leone faces criticism over Ebola shutdown

Sep 20, 2014

Sierra Leone began the second day of a 72-hour nationwide shutdown aimed at containing the spread of the deadly Ebola virus on Saturday amid criticism that the action was a poorly planned publicity stunt.

Presence of peers ups health workers' hand hygiene

Sep 19, 2014

(HealthDay)—The presence of other health care workers improves hand hygiene adherence, according to a study published in the October issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

User comments