New coronavirus found in UAE camels

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
By Paul Martin

Robert Roos
Feb 11, 2014

Last year camels were implicated as a possible source of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in humans. Now researchers say they have found a brand-new coronavirus in camels in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Scientists from Hong Kong and the UAE found the new virus in 4.8% of fecal samples from 293 dromedary camels in the UAE, according to their report in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The new virus, like MERS-CoV, is classified as a member of the betacoronavirus group.

Furthermore, the researchers found that nearly all the camels also carried antibodies to MERS-CoV, suggesting that they had been exposed to it previously. That finding is consistent with several other recent studies that found antibodies to MERS-CoV or a closely related virus in dromedary camels in the Middle East.

The take-home message, the researchers say, is that viruses in camels bear close watching to understand the potential for transmission to humans, given the high level of contact between humans and camels.

In December researchers reported that dromedary camels on a farm in Qatar were infected with a MERS-CoV strain nearly identical to that found in two people associated with the farm, but they couldn’t determine whether the camels infected the humans or vice versa. Pointing out that few MERS patients have reported contact with camels, experts have said that the link between MERS-CoV in camels and humans has not been fully established.

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