Ship of the desert: Camels of Arabia suspected of carrying deadly virus cargo
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Friday 09 August 2013
The one-humped dromedary camel of Arabia may be the source of a mysterious respiratory virus that emerged without warning last year causing kidney failure and severe pneumonia and leading to the death of about half the people known to be infected.
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,” said Chantal Reusken of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands.
“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 study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, tested a range of domestic animals for viral antibodies, including the two-humped Bactrian camel, but found positive results only in dromedary camels.
Antibody tests only show that an animal has been exposed to virus, rather than still being infected. The scientists said further tests are now needed to see if camels are chronically infected with MERS-CoV, which would suggest that they are acting as a reservoir for human infections.
“Research efforts are now needed to focus on well-designed animals studies in the Middle East, concentrating on finding the virus that triggers these antibodies in dromedaries, and comparing them with the virus from human patients, ensuring that as much information as possible is gathered about patients’ contacts with animals and animal products such as camel milk,” the researchers said.
In at least one patient, a man from the United Arab Emirates who was treated in Germany, there was close contact with camels. The man, who died in hospital aged 73, had owned racing camels.
The World Organisation for Animal Health said earlier this year, before this latest study, that there is little evidence that camels may be involved in the transmission of the virus to humans.
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
- 5 Teen suffers embarrassing wardrobe malfunction in front of deputy PM
Which country would be hardest to invade?
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
UK weather: Severe weather warning for snow and torrential rain over bank holiday weekend
Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...
£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...