Via Arab News, an AFP report: Camels likely source of MERS virus in people: study. Excerpt:
A respiratory virus that has killed dozens of people, mainly in the Middle East, is widespread in camels and may be jumping directly from camels to humans, said a study Tuesday.
Called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, it has killed 79 of the 182 people infected since September 2012, according to the World Health Organization.
Until now, little was known about its source or how it could be infecting people. But senior study author Ian Lipkin of Columbia University said research now shows the virus is “extraordinarily common” in camels and has been for at least 20 years.
“In some parts of Saudi Arabia, two-thirds of young animals have infectious virus in their respiratory tracts,” he told AFP.
“It is plausible that camels could be a major source of infection for humans.”
Lipkin worked with colleagues at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and lead author Abdulaziz Alagaili of King Saud University in Riyadh on the study, which was published in the journal mBio on February 25.
Researchers took blood samples as well as rectal and nasal swabs from more than 200 camels in Saudi Arabia in November and December of 2013.
They analyzed the samples using mobile laboratory technology and found antibodies for MERS as well as active virus, particularly in the nasal secretions of younger camels.
“Overall, 74 percent of camels sampled countrywide had antibodies to MERS-CoV (coronavirus),” said the study.
The team also analyzed archives of blood samples from dromedary camels — the most common species — taken from 1992 to 2010, and found evidence of MERS going back two decades.
“The virus that has been identified in these camels is identical to the virus that has been found in humans with disease,” Lipkin said.
If confirmed, MERS would not be the only disease known to pass from camels to humans, but such cases are rare. One other is Rift Valley fever, which can cause fever and flu-like symptoms in people.
Saudi Gazette has a report also, this one by The Associated Press. A check of six Arabic-language newspapers turned up no reports on this study. Evidently the Saudis are not interested in talking too much to their own people about the mBio paper, or in making MERS a regular beat for their own journalists.
The #Corona hashtag is full of tweets about the Lipkin report, however; evidently public interest is high, and tweeters are linking to Arabic news sites like ebrez.com, which is running a version of the AP report.
No one is talking about the evident rift between Lipkin and his colleagues at King Saud University, and Ziad Memish and the Ministry of Health.