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Dromedary camels are key source of MERS Virus: Study

Jun 13, 2015 12:02 IST

Dromedary camels aged less than four years might a major source of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, as per a recent study. The findings of the study were published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in June 2015.

The research study was carried out by international team who had looked for evidence of current or past MERS infection in more than 800 dromedary camels or Arabian camels. Changes in animal husbandry may reduce the occurrence of human MERS infections.

Findings of the Study

• Dromedaries (Camels) across the Arabian Peninsula and parts of eastern and northern Africa have MERS-CoV antibodies. These antibodies are likely to be caused by infection with the same virus strains that infect humans.
• More than 90 percent of camels were infected by MERS virus at the age of two and virus shedding was more common in calves than in adults.
• Dromedary camels that are living in the Middle East have antibodies that recognised MERS virus protein which is a strong sign of past infection.
• However the spread of MERS virus in humans is still unknown but it might spread due to direct contact with body fluids from infected camels.
• Alternatively, it might have spread by drinking unpasteurised camel milk and possibly by transfer through the contaminated virus present in the saliva of an infected calf to their mothers.

The Study

• The team investigated dairy, racing and breeding dromedaries from 3 flocks on farms 20–40 km apart. The blood and nasal swab specimens were obtained from all camels in the flocks during March–June 2014. Samples were grouped according to the camels’ ages.
• Serologic testing yielded evidence of MERS-CoV antibodies in  more than 96 percent of all dromedaries of more than 2 years of age.
• In order to understand MERS-CoV infection in dromedary calves, the team investigated 24 mother–calf pairs from the breeding flock. The investigations were all conducted in May 2014. At the time of sampling, mother camels were at 12–15 years of age and calves were 4–6 months of age.
• They sequenced genomes of 9 virus isolates, representing 3 different phylogenetic lineages, from dromedaries on the 3 farms. Phylogeny of full genomes showed that all viruses were clustered according to their place of origin.

About Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
MERS virus was discovered in 2012 and has mostly been centred in Saudi Arabia. It belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

The virus is thought to be primarily acquired through contact with camels, but it can also spread from human fluids and droplets. There have been 1167 cases of the virus worldwide and 479 of the patients have died, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

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