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Camels’ role in MERS virus now under question

The link between MERS and camels is one of continued change and redefinition. Early in 2014, one study found that the coronavirus responsible for MERS is widespread in camels throughout Saudi Arabia and has been around for at least 20 years. Later during the year, scientists affirmed that MERS-CoV is common in camels living near areas where most of the documented human infections have occurred.

Into 2015, and a different study calls the link into question. The new research infers that MERS-infected camels may not be spreading the coronavirus to humans.

Researchers from King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia and the University of Hong Kong tested 11 members of a domestic herd of 70 camels and found that nine were infected with the MERS virus. The scientists then proceeded to test the blood of 191 people, 146 with no exposure to the camels and 45 with low to high exposure. This latter group included four herdsmen who had daily contact with the animals and who often drank raw camel milk. The researchers found that none of them had antibodies to MERS, which would be present if any of them had been previously infected.

Camels may still have an association with MERS. However, the experimental data indicates that human disease is not directly proportional to potential exposure to a virus that seems to be common in dromedary camels.

The findings have been published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The report is titled “Lack of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Transmission from Infected Camels.”

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is the sixth new type of coronavirus like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Symptoms of MERS-CoV infection include renal failure and severe acute pneumonia, which often result in a fatal outcome.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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