MERS study shows link to camels in Saudi Arabia

  • Share via facebook
  • Tweet this
  • Bookmark and Share
(Getty Images - Photo for illustrative purpose only)

(Getty Images - Photo for illustrative purpose only)

A respiratory virus that has killed dozens of people, mainly in the Middle East, is widespread in camels and may be jumping directly from camels to humans, according to a study by the World Health Organisation.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has killed 79 of the 182 people infected since it emerged in September 2012.

Senior study author Ian Lipkin, of Columbia University, said research now showed the virus was “extraordinarily common” in camels and had been for at least 20 years.

“In some parts of Saudi Arabia, two-thirds of young animals have infectious virus in their respiratory tracts,” he told AFP.

“It is plausible that camels could be a major source of infection for humans.”

Lipkin worked with colleagues at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and lead author Abdulaziz Alagaili of King Saud University in Riyadh on the study, which was published in the journal mBio on February 25.

Researchers took blood samples as well as rectal and nasal swabs from more than 200 camels in Saudi Arabia in November and December of 2013.

They analysed the samples using mobile laboratory technology and found antibodies for MERS as well as active virus, particularly in the nasal secretions of younger camels.

“Overall, 74 percent of camels sampled countrywide had antibodies to MERS-CoV (coronavirus),” the study said.

The team also analysed archives of blood samples from dromedary camels — the most common species — taken from 1992 to 2010, and found evidence of MERS going back two decades.

“The virus that has been identified in these camels is identical to the virus that has been found in humans with disease,” Lipkin said.

If confirmed, MERS would not be the only disease known to pass from camels to humans, but such cases are rare. One other is Rift Valley fever, which can cause fever and flu-like symptoms in people.

Camels that tested positive for the virus appeared to be in otherwise good health.

Most of the human infections of MERS have been in Saudi Arabia, with others scattered across Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, and the UAE.

Some cases have also been reported in France, Germany, Italy and Britain, but all have had some links to travel in the Middle East.

Researchers now think close contact with camels, which are known to be slobbery creatures, could be how the virus is transmitted.

“People race them, people keep them as pets,” said Lipkin.

“And they also eat camels, so there are many opportunities for exchange of material between camels and people.”

Researchers are investigating a potential vaccine for camels and are still searching for a treatment for humans who become infected.

Related:
Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

  • No comments yet, be the first!

Enter the words above: Enter the numbers you hear:

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
Finger on the pulse of Gulf healthcare

Finger on the pulse of Gulf healthcare

Fast-expanding Anglo Arabian Healthcare has already built up...

Saudi healthcare booms as state bids to close welfare gap

Saudi healthcare booms as state bids to close welfare gap

Stock market listings are being planned by two of Saudi Arabia...

Revealed: How the Gulf is losing billions to medical insurance fraud

Revealed: How the Gulf is losing billions to medical insurance fraud

The growing issue of medical insurance fraud and abuse — ranging...

Most Discussed