(HealthDay News) — New research suggests that camels can transmit the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus to people. The study, published in the April 24 issue of Eurosurveillance, also showed that MERS levels were especially high in camels’ eyes and noses, and the researchers believe that people are most likely to be infected through contact with these sites, especially nasal discharge.
Virologists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, found that the MERS viruses in camels and people in the same geographical region are almost genetically identical. MERS was first identified in June 2012; Arabian camels were recently identified as the source of the respiratory virus. To date, there have been 401 confirmed cases of MERS in 12 countries, but all the cases originated in six countries in the Arabian Peninsula. More than 100 people have died.
For the study, scientists took nasal and conjunctival swabs from 76 camels in Oman. In five camels, they found the MERS coronavirus. An analysis of that compared to MERS coronavirus in Qatar and Egypt showed that the viruses differ from region to region. Currently, there is no available vaccine or recommended treatment for the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While the SARS coronavirus probably crossed the species barrier only once by passing from bats to humans, we may presume that the MERS coronavirus is being constantly transmitted from camels to humans,” study coauthor Norbert Nowotny, PhD, said in a university news release. “This means that there is no specific ‘camel MERS coronavirus strain,’ but that one virus infects both camels and humans,” he said. “With this knowledge we can specifically react to the spread of the virus. Vaccinations of camels are currently being discussed. We will thus be able to halt the spread of the virus.”