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Saudi Arabian camels carry MERS virus
Date:2/25/2014

An estimated three-quarters of camels recently surveyed in Saudi Arabia have evidence of infection with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the virus responsible for human cases of MERS. Results of the new study establish for the first time that direct camel-to-human transmission is possible and provide a pathway to control the spread of the disease.

Results in the journal mBio are reported by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health; Mammals Research Chair, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; and EcoHealth Alliance.

To date, at least 182 people have been infected with the virus that causes MERS and 79 have died since the first documented case in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Since then, most cases have been in Saudi Arabia, with lower numbers in Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom have also reported cases related to travel to the Middle East. So far the source of the disease has remained a mystery.

An analysis of blood samples collected from 203 camels across Saudi Arabia in 2013 found 150, or 74%, had antibodies to the MERS coronavirus, indicating past infection. Nasal swabs and rectal specimens revealed that genetic sequences of MERS-CoV from active infection in camels matched those found in humans. The rate of camels with active MERS-CoV infection varied widely by region, ranging from 66% of camels in Taif in the west to none in Gizan in the southwest. Young camels were more than twice as likely as adults to be infected. No evidence of MERS was seen in a similar survey of sheep and goats.

"This study is the first to show that the MERS virus seen in humans is widespread in camels throughout Saudi Arabia," says first author Abdulaziz N. Alagaili, PhD, the
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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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