Dubai: Earlier this week, medical investigators for the first time have confirmed the Mers coronavirus in a camel, one belonging to a Saudi man also ill with the new virus. The tie has provided a critical clue into the virus’s animal hosts and transmission
The first definitive confirmation of the Mers coronavirus in the camel provides a “missing link” for disease experts, said Henry L. Niman, a microbiologist in Pittsburgh who tracks the Middle East virus and other infectious diseases.
Mers typically causes severe respiratory problems.
The virus typically spreads in limited fashion from person to person after appearing in a community, but medical experts have been mystified as to the original source animal.
Owning racing stables or farms with camels and other livestock is popular among Saudi and other Gulf residents with the means to do so. Some, but not all, of the originating human cases in clusters of Mers have been found to have come in contact with camels or other livestock.
But the reality too is that if you walk past the endless rows of vegetables, past the dozens of stalls selling every possible part of animals in any market around the world, scores of people are selling and butchering live animals, breathing the same air and in constant contact with the animals’ blood, urine and faeces.
Of the roughly 400 emerging infectious diseases that have been identified since 1940, more than 60 per cent are zoonotic — they came from animals. Throughout history this has been common. HIV originated in monkeys, ebola in bats, influenza in pigs and birds. The rate at which new pathogens are emerging is on the rise, even taking into account the increase in awareness and surveillance.
Which pathogens will cross the species barrier next, and which one is the greatest potential public health concern, is a subject of intense interest. A modern outbreak, caused by a previously unknown virus, could travel at jet-speed around the world, spreading across the continents in just a few days, causing illness, panic and death.