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MERS could Potentially be Airborne, Study Finds

Update Date: Jul 22, 2014 11:22 AM EDT

According to a new study, researchers identified genetic fragments of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the air of a barn where an infected camel was living. The researchers stated that MERS, which is a viral illness caused by a coronavirus, has the potential of becoming airborne.

For this study, the team had collected air samples every day for three days. The samples came from a camel barn that belonged to a MERS patient. The 43-year-old man, who was living south of the town of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, had died from the virus. In his barn, the researchers had identified MERS in one of the camels.

The researchers tested the air samples for any signs of MERS. They found genetic fragments of the coronavirus that were matched to the fragments found in the camel and the deceased owner.

"The clear message here is that detection of airborne MERS-CoV molecules, which were 100 percent 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," said Esam Azhar, an associate professor of medical virology at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah who led the study reported by Reuters.

Azhar, addedd reported by Philly, "Further investigations and measures [are needed] to prevent possible airborne transmission of this deadly virus. This study also underscores the importance of obtaining a detailed clinical history with particular emphasis on any animal exposure for any [MERS] case, especially because recent reports suggest higher risk of [MERS] infections among people working with camels."

So far, according to the World Health Organization, there have been 701 laboratory confirmed cases of MERS reported throughout the world. There have been at least 249 deaths.

The study, "Detection of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Genome in an Air Sample Originating from a Camel Barn Owned by an Infected Patient," was published in the journal, mBio.

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