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MERS Coronavirus Transmission from Camels to Humans Possible, Researchers Say

May 03, 2014 05:49 AM EDT
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The MERS coronavirus can be transmitted from camels to humans, researchers say.

According to scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, strains of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus found in camels and humans are nearly-identical. The research shows that the virus can be transmitted from animals to humans.

MERS coronavirus was detected in 2012. Currently, some 300 people have caught the infection in the Arab world. Recent research found that the virus originated in camels. However, scientists haven't been able to find the pathway of virus transmission.

The newly-found virus is closely related to the SARS coronavirus that claimed 800 lives between 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 humans," explained Norbert Nowotny, one of the study authors.

Nowotny and Jolanta Kolodziejek, virologists at the Institute of Virology, found that the virus strains from camels and humans are related and share nearly-identical RNA sequence.

"This indicates transmission between animals and man. The process is referred to as zoonosis. 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," said Nowotny in a news release.

For the study, researchers used nasal swabs taken from 76 camels from Oman. The team found five camels that had MERS coronavirus and then compared the RNA with those of virus strains found in camels from Qatar and Egypt.

According to the researchers, the virus might be transmitted via basal discharge. In humans, the virus causes pneumonia and renal failure. Camels infected with the virus show no symptoms

The study is published in the Journal Eurosurveillance.

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