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Camels, MERS Virus Link Confirmed, But Is It Milk or Meat?

Image: Camels, MERS Virus Link Confirmed, But Is It Milk or Meat?

By Michael Mullins   |   Wednesday, 30 Apr 2014 10:59 AM

A camels, MERS Virus link has been confirmed, according to a new joint study conducted by Columbia University, King Saud University, and the EcoHealth Alliance.

Published in the journal mBio, the study proposes that the MERS Virus is a zoonotic disease – one which is transmitted from animals to humans – that has been around for a while, however it has only become apparent due to the increased sensitivity of new tests, NBC News reported.

"Given these new data, we are now investigating potential routes for human infection through exposure to camel milk or meat products," study member Abdulaziz Alagaili of King Saud University told NBC News.

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Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University, who led the study, added that "there are some areas where we found it in 100 percent of camels. So this is not an uncommon infection."

"Although there is no evidence that MERS is becoming more transmissible, the recent increase in reported cases is a cause for concern," Lipkin told NBC News.

According to the research, the MERS Virus has been "circulating in camels [countrywide] since at least 1992" and "can be phylogenetically classified into clades that correlate with outbreaks of the disease among humans." The researchers also found that there was "no evidence of infection in domestic sheep or domestic goats."

Camels were first considered as a possible host of the MERS virus back in August of 2013 via a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

According to The Associated Press, of the 313 people that have contracted MERS virus in Saudi since September 2012, 92 have died including five this past Friday. In total there have been 350 cases reported worldwide of which more than 100 have died from the virus, which has since spread from the Middle East to Asia and Europe.

Scientists have yet to determine exactly how MERS Virus is transmitted between people; however in May of 2013 the World Health Organization warned that the MERS virus represented a "threat to entire world."

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On Saturday, the first case of the MERS virus was reported in Egypt via a 27-year-old civil engineer who was diagnosed in Cairo after having returned from an extended stay in Saudi Arabia.

MERS virus is lethal in about 30 percent of its cases to date, however the concern is that considering it comes from the same coronavirus family as SARS – which killed some 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003, MERS virus might in time prove just as deadly if not more so than its cousin virus if it is able to spread worldwide.

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