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Published On: Fri, Aug 9th, 2013

Camels the source of MERS coronavirus? Current evidence is not sufficient according to FAO

New research by National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands scientists have found antibodies to the  Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in some Dromedary camels tested, suggesting a potential source of the virus that has sickened nearly 100 people, primarily on the Arabian Peninsula.

The research was published today in the  journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases

 

Dromedary Camel . Image/Video Screen Shot

Dromedary Camel .
Image/Video Screen Shot

The Dutch research team  looked at blood samples taken from livestock animals, including camels, sheep, goats and cows, from a number of different countries and tested them for antibodies against the virus.

What they found was that a high percentage of camels from Oman and the Canary Islands tested positive for the MERS-CoV antibodies. Interestingly, there has been no human cases of MERS-CoV in either country.

The researchers said of their findings: “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.”

Researchers suggest that these new findings may help demonstrate important information about the virus spreading through animals and antibodies found in their blood for possible treatment.

In an news release from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today,  FAO Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth said, “It is not yet clear how people are becoming infected, or where the virus might come from. We do not have enough information to identify with certainty the virus’s origin. Confirming the source and mechanisms of transmission and spread are key to developing ways to reduce the risks posed by this virus to humans or other countries.”

These antibody findings indicate that the MERS virus, or a similar coronavirus, occurs in some camels and potentially other species. However, the only way to know with any certainty if the virus affecting humans is the same as the virus possibly affecting camels (or any other animal) is to isolate the virus in different species and compare them genetically, according to the FAO news release.

Last month, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) stated in an Q & A, “Currently there is no strong evidence to suggest that camels are a source of infection for human cases of MERS. MERS CoV has not been identified in camels and current information from human cases does not suggest that exposure to camels is an important risk factor. It is important to remain open minded about all potential sources of exposure for human cases until more evidence is available.”

More research needs to be done to pinpoint the actual source of the new coronavirus, animal or not, and how humans become infected.

Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 94 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 46 deaths.

For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page

 

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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