MERS virus can spread from camels to humans

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Washington: The recently emerged Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) can be transmitted from camel to man, it has been found.

Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, show that the MERS coronaviruses in man and camels from a single region are almost identical.

The MERS coronavirus was first found in June 2012 in a patient from Saudi Arabia, who suffered from severe pneumonia.

The fact that the Arabian camel is the origin of the infectious disease has been confirmed recently. The transmission pathways of the viruses, however, have not been clear until now.

Virologists Norbert Nowotny and Jolanta Kolodziejek from the Institute of Virology are investigating the transmission pathways of the MERS coronavirus.

They found that viruses from infected humans and Arabian camels from the same geographical region have nearly identical RNA sequences.

Nowotny said that the process of transmission between animals and man is referred to as zoonosis.

"Vaccinations of camels are currently being discussed. We will thus be able to halt the spread of the virus, he said.

The scientists investigated nasal and conjunctival swabs, taken from 76 camels in Oman. In five camels they found the MERS coronavirus and compared its RNA with those of MERS coronavirus from Qatar and Egypt. The analysis showed that the viruses differ from region to region.

This means that there is no specific camel MERS coronavirus strain', but that one virus infects both, camels and humans, said Nowotny.

Virus levels were surprisingly high in the nasal mucosa and conjunctiva of camels. Therefore the scientists presume that the transmission pathway from animals to humans most likely occurs through these contact sites, especially through nasal discharge.

In man the virus causes severe pneumonia and renal failure while camels show no or very little symptoms (in some cases nasal discharge). So far all infections in humans have occurred in the Arabian Peninsula.

However, some developed the disease after they returned to their native country, of whom eleven were from Europe. MERS coronavirus is also transmitted from one human to another.

MERS coronavirus is closely related to SARS coronavirus. SARS originated in China and claimed 800 lives worldwide in 2002 and 2003.

While the SARS coronavirus probably crossed the species barrier only once by passing from bats to humans, we may presume that the MERS coronavirus is being constantly transmitted from camels to hu mans, explained Nowotny.

The study is published in the Journal Eurosurveillance.

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