The one-humped dromedary camel of Arabia may be the source of a mysterious respiratory virus that emerged without warning last year causing kidney failure and severe pneumonia and leading to the death of about half the people known to be infected.
Scientists have found antibodies to the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Mers-CoV) in blood samples taken from about 50 dromedary camels living in Oman in the Arabian Peninsula. The virus has so far killed more than 40 people around the world.
The researchers believe the results indicate that camels may be acting as a reservoir for the virus to jump the "species barrier" to humans, given that the animals are widely used for racing, as well as their meat and milk, in countries where the virus has infected people.
"As new human cases of Mers-CoV continue to emerge, without any clues about the sources of infection except for people who caught it from other patients, these new results suggest that dromedary camels may be one reservoir of the virus that is causing Mers-CoV in humans," said Dr Chantal Reusken of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands.
The study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, tested a range of domestic animals for viral antibodies.