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Camels Might be the Cause of the MERS Outbreak

Update Date: Aug 09, 2013 10:53 AM EDT

The MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) that has been circulating in the Middle East as well as in some European nations has left a total of 94 people infected and 46 fatalities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). MERS, which is very similar to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), leads to severe respiratory conditions, pneumonia, fever and coughing. In order to prevent MERS from doing more damage with the potential of spreading rapidly, researchers have conducted studies to examine the nature of the virus. In one of the latest studies, researchers believe that they have found the origin of the virus in camels.

"As new human cases of MERS-CoV continue to emerge, without any clues about the sources of infection except for people who caught it from other patients, these new results suggest that dromedary camels may be one reservoir of the virus that is causing MERS-CoV in humans. Dromedary camels are a popular animal species in the Middle East, where they are used for racing, and also for meat and milk, so there are different types of contact of humans with these animals that could lead to transmission of a virus," the authors wrote, according to TIME.

In this study, the international research team headed by Dr. Chantal Reusken from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, examined how the virus exists in different animals. They tested a wide range of animals, from cattle to camels, to see if the virus had spread in animals, which could then spread to humans. From these blood tests, they discovered that all 50 camels that live in Oman, the nation that is next to Saudi Arabia where the MERS cases first showed up, tested positive for the virus. These camels all had antibodies to MERS, which indicated that their immune systems had fought against the infection. The researchers also found that 14 percent of the camels from Europe had the same antibodies. The researchers concluded that the virus could have spread through camels that appeared to be effectively fighting off the infection on their own.

The researchers now plan on comparing the strains of MERS in these camels and in the infected people. If the comparison indicates that the viruses came from the same source, researchers can look into new ways of preventing MERS from spreading.

The study was published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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