Researchers determine MERS virus transmission from animals to humans

Two researchers from the Institute of Virology recently revealed that MERS viruses from infected humans and Arabian camels from the same geographical region have nearly identical RNA sequences.

Virologists Nobert Nowotny and Jolanta Kolodziejek investigated nasal and conjunctival swabs from 76 camels in Oman, finding the MERS coronavirus in five camels. They compared the RNA from the five camels with MERS coronavirus from Qatar and Egypt, finding that the virus differs from region to region.

"This means that there is no specific 'camel MERS coronavirus strain', but that one virus infects both, camels and humans," Nowotny said.

The virologists found that virus levels were very high in the camel's nasal mucosa and conjunctiva, which they said points to transmission pathways from to humans from those sites.

"This indicates transmission between animals and man," Nowotny said. "The process is referred to as zoonosis. With this knowledge we can specifically react to the spread of the virus. Vaccinations of camels are currently being discussed. We will thus be able to halt the spread of the virus."

The virus causes severe pneumonia and renal failure in humans while camels show little to no symptoms. All human infections to date have occurred in the Arabian Peninsula.