A new study points to dromedary camels as the possible animal reservoir of Middle East Respiratory Virus, MERS, which has infected 94 people and killed about half since last year.
Researchers from The Netherlands say they have found antibodies against the virus in many dromedary camels they tested. The antibodies mean that the camels were, at one time, exposed to the virus. But none of them were infected with the virus when they were tested, which means their immune system fought it off.
Of 50 camels tested in Oman, where the virus is showing up in people, all showed signs of having been infected with the virus. Only 15 of the 105 camels tested form the Canary Islands, where people aren’t being infected, tested positive.
“The fact that 100% of the Omanian camels are positive means that the result is highly significant and likely very real.” Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University who’s also searching for MERS in animal samples, told Science Magazine. He said the paper provides “compelling evidence that camelids [a group that includes camels, llamas, and alpacas] may be implicated.”
None of the other animals tested , including cows, sheep, and goats, were positive for antibodies against the virus.
The results were reported today, Aug. 8, in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases (the paper will go live at 6:30 pm EST).
While the data is preliminary, it is the first real sign that researchers are on the right path to finding where this deadly virus is coming from.
There could still be other ways the virus is circling, Lipkin said, so the search needs to continue. Finding the source means people can be warned, and the spread of the disease can be halted.
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