Photo Credit Wikipedia
Since early August, when the first evidence was presented (see Lancet: Camels Found With Antibodies To MERS-CoV-Like Virus), researchers have known that some camels on the Arabian peninsula had been exposed to a MERS-like virus, but the exact virus was undetermined.
It could have been the same MERS-CoV that has been infecting humans for the past two years, or it could have been a close relative.
Subsequent studies have incremented our knowledge, but we’ve not had solid evidence linking the human virus to the camel antibodies. That is, until now.
On November 27th, Qatari officials announced that the MERS virus had been detected in Camels on a farm where two people had become infected (see Qatar Supreme Council of Health Statement On MERS-CoV In Camels), and that further investigations were underway by the local Health Ministry and RIVM laboratory and Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands.
Last night The Lancet published a study, led by Marion Koopmans, DVM, PhD, head of virology at the Laboratory for Infectious Diseases at the RIVM in the Netherlands, that determined that the human viruses and the camel viruses were almost an identical match. So close, in fact, that they were unable to determine whether the humans or the camels were infected first.
While pretty much confirming that both humans and camels were infected with the same virus, the report states: “We cannot conclude whether the people on the farm were infected by the camels or vice versa, or if a third source was responsible.”
Bart L Haagmans PhD a †, Said H S Al Dhahiry PhD b †, Chantal B E M Reusken PhD c †, V Stalin Raj PhD a †, Monica Galiano PhD d, Richard Myers PhD d, Gert-Jan Godeke BSc c, Marcel Jonges MSc c, Elmoubasher Farag MPH e, Ayman Diab MPH e, Hazem Ghobashy PhD e, Farhoud Alhajri BSc e, Mohamed Al-Thani ABCM e, Salih A Al-Marri ABFM e, Hamad E Al Romaihi ABCM e, Abdullatif Al Khal PhD e, Alison Bermingham PhD d, Prof Albert D M E Osterhaus PhD a, Dr Mohd M AlHajri ABCM e , Prof Marion P G Koopmans PhD a c
We obtained samples from 14 camels on Oct 17, 2013. We detected MERS-CoV in nose swabs from three camels by three independent RT-PCRs and sequencing. The nucleotide sequence of an ORF1a fragment (940 nucleotides) and a 4·2 kb concatenated fragment were very similar to the MERS-CoV from two human cases on the same farm and a MERS-CoV isolate from Hafr-Al-Batin. Eight additional camel nose swabs were positive on one or more RT-PCRs, but could not be confirmed by sequencing. All camels had MERS-CoV spike-binding antibodies that correlated well with the presence of neutralising antibodies to MERS-CoV.
Our study provides virological confirmation of MERS-CoV in camels and suggests a recent outbreak affecting both human beings and camels. We cannot conclude whether the people on the farm were infected by the camels or vice versa, or if a third source was responsible.
Helen Branswell brings us additional remarks by lead author Dr. Marion Koopmans, in her report entitled:
By Helen Branswell The Canadian Press
A new scientific paper confirms that camels on a farm in Qatar were sick with MERS earlier this fall.
But the report does not make clear whether camels infected people on the farm in question, whether people infected camels or whether an unidentified third species infected both.
In fact, the senior author of the study says the evidence as it exists cannot determine which way the virus spread.
And virologist Marion Koopmans, of the Dutch National Institute of Public Health, says it is unlikely that the mystery will be cleared up in this case.
And last stop, Robert Roos writing for CIDRAP NEWS files this report:
Dec 16, 2013
Researchers today reported that dromedary camels on a farm in Qatar were infected with a strain of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) nearly identical to that found in two people associated with the farm. The findings point to an outbreak that involved both camels and humans, but they don't answer the key question of whether camels infected humans or the other way around.
Qatari health officials announced Nov 27 that the virus had been found in camels on the farm. Today's report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases spells out the science behind the announcement and says the findings mark the first definitive confirmation of the virus in camels.