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Live virus implicates camels in MERS outbreak
Date:4/28/2014

There is new, more definitive evidence implicating camels in the ongoing outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, King Saud University, and EcoHealth Alliance extracted a complete, live, infectious sample of MERS coronavirus from two camels in Saudi Arabia. The sample matched MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) found in humans, indicating that the virus in camels is capable of infecting humans and that camels are a likely source of the outbreak.

Results appear online in the journal mBio.

The researchers examined nasal samples collected during a countrywide survey of dromedary camels and selected samples from two animals with the highest viral load. They cultured and obtained complete genomic sequence from both animals as well as virus in nasal samples from several other camels.

The mathematical means of all genetic sequences (the consensus genomic sequences) were consistent with viruses found in human cases; however, samples from camels contained more than one virus genotype. Over a period of 48 hours of culture in primate cells, the genomic variation of viruses narrowed, mirroring the lower sequence diversity reported in MERS-CoV found in humans.

"The finding of infectious virus strengthens the argument that dromedary camels are reservoirs for MERS-CoV," says first author Thomas Briese, PhD, associate director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School. "The narrow range of MERS viruses in humans and a very broad range in camels may explain in part the why human disease is uncommon: because only a few genotypes are capable of cross species transmission," adds Dr. Briese.

"Given these new data, we are now investigating potential routes for human infection through exposure to camel milk or meat products," says co-author Abdulaziz N. Ala
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Contact: Timothy S. Paul
tp2111@columbia.edu
212-305-2676
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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