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Deadly MERS virus may be spread by camels

New research has found antibodies in blood samples taken from camels in a number of different locations in Oman.

RESEARCHERS SEARCHING FOR signs of the deadly MERS virus in livestock animals have found antibodies specific to the new virus in dromedary camels.

The research, published today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases suggests that these animals have encountered MERS-CoV, or a closely related virus, and may be one carrier of the virus that is causing the SARS-like virus in humans.

Recent research showed that the virus can replicate in cell lines taken from bats but it seems unlikely that it is transmitting directly from bars to humans given the shy and nocturnal nature of these creatures.

However given that human-to-human transmissibility of the virus also appears to be rare, researchers suspect that another animal host for the virus exists.


An international team of researchers gathered 349 blood serum samples from a variety of livestock animals including dromedary camels, cows, sheep, and goats, as well as from some animals closely related to dromedaries. The animals were from a variety of different countries, including Oman, the Netherlands, Spain, and Chile.

The samples were analysed and found no MERS-CoV antibodies in those from 160 cattle, sheep and goats from the Netherlands and Spain. However antibodies specific to the virus were found in all 50 samples taken from dromedary camels in Oman even though samples were taken from a number of different locations around the country.

Lower levels of MERS-CoV-specific antibodies were also found in 14 oer cent of serum samples taken from two herds of dromedaries from the Canary Islands, not previously known to be a location where the virus is circulating.

Commenting on the new data, the authors said:

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.

They added that research now needs to focus on well-designed animal studies in the Middle East, concentrating on what triggers these antibodies in he camels and comparing that with the virus from human cases.

Read: 38 people dead from the ‘new SARS’ – and we’re not sure how it spreads>

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