MERS or similar virus has been spreading in camels for at least a decade: study - InfoNews

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MERS or similar virus has been spreading in camels for at least a decade: study

FILE - In this Friday, May 31, 2013 file photo, a boy leads camels at a weekly camel market in Birqash, Egypt.A new study provides the first evidence that MERS or a very similar virus has been spreading in camels in parts of the Middle East for at least a decade. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Hiro Komae
January 02, 2014 - 1:44 PM

A new study provides the first evidence that MERS or a very similar virus has been spreading in camels in parts of the Middle East for at least a decade.

The research shows that stored blood samples taken from camels in 2003 all contain antibodies to the virus, or something close enough to MERS that antibody tests designed for MERS detect them.

The first known human cases of the disease occurred in Jordan in April, 2012.

The camels were from the United Arab Emirates, where at least a dozen human MERS infections have occurred.

Scientists from Germany, the Netherlands and UAE tested 651 blood samples taken from camels, finding 632 or 97 per cent had antibodies to the virus.

Most of the samples were drawn in 2013, but 151 had been in storage since 2003; of those, all tested positive for MERS antibodies.

"Dromedary camels from the United Arab Emirates were infected at high rates with MERS-CoV" — CoV is short for coronavirus — "or a closely related, probably con-specific, virus long before the first human MERS cases," the authors say.

To date the World Health Organization has been informed of 176 human cases of the disease, 74 of which have been fatal.

It's still unclear how people become infected with the MERS virus, a cousin of the one that cause the 2003 SARS outbreak.

It is assumed that the virus originated in bats. But in their efforts to figure out how a bat virus infects humans, scientists have found mounting evidence that camels can at least be infected with the virus. Whether the animals are the sole or even the main source of virus for humans isn't known.

The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, but was posted online Thursday.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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