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 Games of Thrones actor Lena Headey makes emotional promise to her unborn daughter
- 2 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 3 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 Picture of couple posing with beached dolphin 'that later died' causes outrage
Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
Purity balls: Girls in the US making virginity pledges as fathers vow to 'protect purity'
Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...