Columbia University Medical Center

Camels Are Likely Source of MERS Outbreak, Study Finds

Photo: MikeLane45/Thinkstock

Photo: MikeLane45/Thinkstock

There is new, more definitive evidence implicating camels in the ongoing outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

Scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, King Saud University, and EcoHealth Alliance extracted a complete, live, infectious sample of MERS coronavirus from two camels in Saudi Arabia. The sample matched those found in humans, indicating that the virus in camels is capable of infecting humans and that camels are a likely source of the outbreak. The finding was reported in the journal mBio.

The finding strengthens the argument that camels are reservoirs for the MERS virus, says the study’s first author, Thomas Briese, PhD, associate director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School. In a press release, Dr. Briese added that

“[T]he narrow range of MERS viruses in humans and a very broad range in camels may explain in part why human disease is uncommon: because only a few genotypes are capable of cross species transmission.”

To date, at least 300 people have been infected with the virus that causes MERS and approximately 100 have died since the first documented case in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. While human-to-human transmission has occurred, the source of the disease in most cases has remained a mystery.

To learn more, read the full press release from the Mailman School of Public Health.