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MERS Outbreak Linked to Camel

MERS Outbreak Linked to Camels

Scientist believe they have found the source of MERS, the infection in the Middle East that has killed 46 people since last year.   According to Scientists the MERS virus was found in racing camels and could be the source of human infections.

MERS is similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and is a coronavirus which scientist believe originate in bats.  While researchers investigating the outbreak of MERS have found a link to bats, the likelihood of bats transmitted it to humans is improbable because there is little interaction between bats and humans.

Marion Koopmans, an infectious disease researcher at the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, reported that an international team of scientists tested the blood of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, and camels in the Netherlands, Spain, Chile and Oman. They attempted to test livestock from other countries with reports of MERS, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but they refused to work with them.

The results of the tests revealed 50 dromedary camels from Oman had antibodies against the MERS virus.

“There is something circulating in dromedary camels that looks very much like MERS coronavirus,” Koopmans said. The camels affected were female retired racing camels used for breeding.  The camels were found in different locations.

While this is a breakthrough in determining the source of the virus, Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University, also researching MERS in livestock, believes the results of the findings in camels is compelling but other animals need to be tested to determine if they are hosts to the virus too.

Camels are used in meat production in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  A large number of camels are imported to the Middle East from Africa as well as Australia.  Scientist ponder if African and Australian bats harbor the virus and transmit it to camels that are exported to the Middle East.

This is only a premise and needs further investigation. Koopman says if camels that are imported to the Middle East could be tracked and sampled they could determine whether the animals contracted the virus before or after coming to the Middle East.

Scientist are attempting to gather more information, but run into blocks when attempting to obtain information about the infected patients in the Middle East.  According to Koopman, they need more information on the exposure infected people had with the camels.  For instance, a MERS patient who died in Germany in March owned racing camels and revealed close contact with a sick camel before he was stricken with the virus.

Koopmans further stated that they needed more information on. “Where do they live?  Where are the markets? What kind of exposure did they have?  That is the kind of information we need to get from the MERs patients as well.”

With this recent discovery, scientist have a better idea of where to look. Since the camels tested had already developed antibodies, Koopman believes the best group to test would be a herd because they could possibly find camels who have not yet developed an immune defense and may still harbor the virus.

There is concern that the virus may mutate and began to spread from host to host in humans because there is evidence to support that some patients may have contracted MERS in a health-care setting.

By: Veverly Edwards

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