SARS-Like Virus Traced to—Camels?

Study finds virus antibodies in some camels from Oman, Canary Islands

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 9, 2013 10:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Researchers have overcome a major hump in tracing the deadly MERS virus: Camels may be the source of infection. A study published in the Lancet reports that antibodies to the virus were found in blood samples taken from dromedary camels in Oman and the Canary Islands—"compelling evidence that dromedaries are infected with MERS or a related coronavirus," an expert tells the New York Times. Though there's still no proof and more research is needed, it does provide a lead; those affected by the SARS-like can now be questioned about their exposure to the animals, which are commonly used as food, pets, and racing animals in the Middle East.

Since many of the Middle East's camels are imported from Africa, it's possible the virus came from there, where bats are known to carry a related virus. So far 94 people have been infected with MERS—almost half have died—but surprisingly none from Oman, where of the 50 camels tested, 100% were positive for antibodies, the Guardian reports. However, Oman is close to countries where many people have fallen ill. Of the 105 camels tested in the Canary Islands, 14% were positive. Tests on sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas came up negative.

Camels rest during a weekly camel market in Birqash, Egypt.
Camels rest during a weekly camel market in Birqash, Egypt.   (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
This microscope image shows novel coronavirus particles, also known as the MERS virus, colorized in yellow.
This microscope image shows novel coronavirus particles, also known as the MERS virus, colorized in yellow.   (AP Photo/NIAID - RML)
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