In a study which reinforces the case against camels as the prime
suspects for transmitting the deadly virus from the animal world
into people, researchers said that in this case it was highly likely
the animal's nasal secretions were to blame.
MERS, also known as MERS-CoV, has infected 691 people and killed at
least 284 of them in Saudi Arabia alone since it first emerged in
Sporadic cases of the disease, which is caused by a virus from the
same family as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, have also
been reported across the Middle East region, as well as in Europe,
Asia and the United States.
Documenting the case of a 44-year-old previously healthy Saudi man
who died of MERS on November 18, 2013, Saudi scientists led by Tariq
Madani said their analysis suggested a so-called zoonotic event -
when a virus circulating in animals makes a jump into the human
"The patient had applied a topical medicine in the nose of one of
the ill camels seven days before onset of the patient's illness,"
they wrote in the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Genetic analysis of samples taken from the victim and from the camel
in question - a one-humped or dromedary camel in a herd of nine
owned by the patient - suggested the virus had passed directly from
the animal to the man, they concluded.
Infectious disease experts not directly involved in the study said
its findings added to a growing body of evidence that camels are a
likely source of the outbreak.
"This is a further strengthening of the case for camels being an
immediate source of human MERS infection," said
Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Britain's University of
"It supports what we thought was going on - i.e. (that)MERS-CoV
transmits from camels to humans...rather than the other way around,"
said Jake Dunning of the center for respiratory infection at
Imperial College London.
"Other studies looking at the link between MERS-CoV in camels and
humans have suggested this, but the evidence was somewhat weaker."
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A study published in August 2013 was among the first to suggest
camels in the Middle East may be an animal reservoir for MERS virus
infections, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia in people.
Experts cautioned, however, that scientists in the region should not
stop searching for other potential animal sources, or stop
investigating cases of human-to-human transmission.
"Several research groups have shown that this virus can be found in
camels (and in bats) and that camel-to-human transmission of
MERS-CoV is likely, but how do we explain infection in other
patients outside of hospital outbreaks?" said Dunning.
"We really need detailed epidemiological studies in affected
countries, including carefully conducted case-control studies. At
the same time, we should continue to look for other animal and
environmental reservoirs of the virus."
The Saudi health ministry, which has come in for criticism from
international scientists and public health experts, said on Sunday
it had set up a new command and control center to try to tackle MERS
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Ralph Boulton)
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