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Are camels the source of the Mers virus?
Scientists believe that the deadly Mers virus sweeping Saudi Arabia could have originated in camels.
Known cases of the illness have quadrupled since April
Known cases of the illness have quadrupled since April Photo: ALAMY
Harriet Alexander By Harriet Alexander6:30AM BST 09 Aug 2013 Comments7 Comments
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is spread by people coughing or sneezing and can cause breathing difficulties, lung damage and pneumonia.
The World Health Organisation believes that there have been 94 confirmed cases so far, and 46 deaths – with Saudi Arabia as the country most affected.
An international team of researchers led by Dr Chantal Reusken, of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, gathered blood serum samples from a variety of livestock animals, including dromedary camels, cows, sheep, and goats. The virus was not present in cows, sheep and goats – but was found in camels from Oman.
It is the first time that a potential animal source of the virus has been identified, said Dr Vincent Munster, a virus expert from Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, USA.
"It is an important step to a more comprehensive understanding of the emergence of Mers," said Dr Munster.
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"In the absence of prophylactic or therapeutic treatment options, blocking zoonotic and human-to-human transmission could be the most promising and cost-effective method to prevent further human fatalities."
Last week three more people in Saudi Arabia were diagnosed as having become infected with the virus – one a 67-year-old woman from Riyadh with underlying medical conditions, and two other patients who were health care workers who were exposed to patients carrying the virus.
Known cases of the illness have quadrupled since April, and it is deadlier than Sars, which killed 774 people in 2003. SARS killed one in ten affected people; Mers has proved fatal in 65 per cent of cases.
In June a Qatari man being treated in London for the illness died, becoming the third victim in the UK.
In February two members of the same family died from the virus. One, a 39-year-old man, died in Birmingham having picked up the virus from his father, who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia. The father then died around a month later in Manchester's Wythenshaw hospital. A female relative was also treated for mild Mers symptoms, raising fears of human-to-human contact.
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