Austrian scientists find MERS can be transmitted from camels to humans

Austrian scientists find MERS can be transmitted from camels to humans

Virologists discover that MERS viruses isolated from camels and humans in the same region are nearly identical in genetic sequence, suggesting that camels transmit the deadly virus to humans, likely through eye and nose discharges.

The deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus is spreading rapidly in Arab regions of the world and infects both camels and human beings. The virus, first detected in June of 2012 in Saudi Arabia, to date has killed more than 100 people. The illness caused by MERS virus is a severe pneumonia that has been documented in over 400 people. It was recently shown to have originated in the Arabian camel. It is only now that research provides strong evidence that the virus can spread from camels to humans.

According to a recent report in the journal Eurosurveillance, MERS viruses isolated from Arabian camels and human beings in the same geographical region are nearly identical in genetic sequence. The viruses are concentrated in the fluid of the eye exterior, or conjunctiva, and nasal mucus. The MERS virus was shown last year to infect both camels and humans, but only now do researchers have compelling evidence that there is transmission across the species. The authors speculate that human contact with these fluids of camels is the primary route of infection for humans.

“This means that there is no specific ‘camel MERS coronavirus strain,’ but that one virus infects both camels and humans,” said Norbert Nowotny of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria, coauthor with Jolanta Kolodziejek on the report. “With this knowledge we can specifically react to the spread of the virus. Vaccinations of camels are currently being discussed. We will thus be able to halt the spread of the virus.”

MERS is closely related to the SARS virus that erupted in Hong Kong and which caused a pandemic in 2002 and 2003. The SARS outbreak eventually killed 800 people worldwide.  The MERS cases were almost entirely isolated to the Arabian Peninsula, but last week U.S. health officials reported the first domestic case of a health care professional who traveled back from Saudi Arabia and is currently hospitalized.

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