(RxWiki News) A link between camels and human infections with the MERS virus has been suspected by some, but until now, research had not definitively confirmed this suspicion.
New research analyzed samples from camels on a farm linked to two human MERS infections.
This analysis confirmed that the MERS virus can infect dromedary camels.
"Wash your hands after contact with livestock."
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has been causing severe respiratory infections and deaths since it was first detected in humans in 2012.
In the latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO), released on December 2, there had been 163 confirmed cases of MERS, including 71 deaths, reported around the globe since September 2012.
Scientists and health officials are still working to understand more about the virus, including how it is spread.
In this new study, which was led by Bart L. Haagmans, PhD, of the Department of Viroscience at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the researchers tested dromedary camels from a farm in Qatar that had been linked to two human MERS infections during October 2013.
The two patients linked to the farm were a 61-year-old man who owned the farm and visited regularly and a 23-year-old man who was an employee at the farm. The owner was diagnosed on October 13 and the employee on October 17.
The researchers took blood samples, nose swabs and rectal swabs from all 14 of the farm's camels on October 17 in order to test for the presence of MERS.
MERS was detected in the nose swabs of three camels, and all of the camels showed antibodies tied to fighting the virus.
These positive samples were analyzed and compared to samples of the virus found in human cases — both in the two cases linked to this farm and in other cases of MERS.
The analysis uncovered genetic similarities between the virus in the camels and the two human cases linked to the farm, and to one Saudi Arabian case.
"Our study provides virological confirmation of MERS-CoV in camels and suggests a recent outbreak affecting both human beings and camels," concluded Dr. Haagmans and colleagues.
However, the researchers noted that much is still to be learned about the virus.
"We cannot conclude whether the people on the farm were infected by the camels or vice versa, or if a third source was responsible," they wrote.
This study was published December 16 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Dr. Haagmans and two fellow study authors hold a pending patent related to MERS. An additional author serves as a scientific advisor for a company that works on diagnostic studies and medication development for viral infections.