London: The one-humped dromedary camel of Arabia may be the source of a mysterious respiratory virus that emerged without warning last year, a new study has revealed.
The virus caused kidney failure and severe pneumonia and lead to the death of about half the people known to be infected, the Independent reported.
Scientists have found antibodies to the Middle East respiratory syndrome cornonavirus (MERS-CoV) in blood samples taken from about 50 dromedary camels living in Oman in the Arabian Peninsula. The virus has so far killed more than 40 people in the world, including three in the UK.
The researchers believe the results indicate that camels may be acting as a reservoir for the virus to jump the "species-barrier" to humans, given that the animals are widely used for racing, as well as their meat and milk, in countries where the virus has infected people.
"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," Chantal Reusken of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, said.
"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," Dr Reusken said.
The researchers tested a range of domestic animals for viral antibodies, including the two-humped Bactrian camel, but found positive results only in dromedary camels.
The study is published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.