Saudi Arabia says a man has died from a new respiratory virus related to SARS, bringing to 64 the deaths in the kingdom at the center of the outbreak.
The Health Ministry said the latest victim was a chronically ill 86-year-old Saudi man who died in Riyadh on Sunday.
The statement also says that five new cases of the virus have tested positive, bringing to 162 the number of people infected in the kingdom since September 2012.
The new virus is related to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed some 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003. It belongs to a family of viruses that most often causes the common cold.
A 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 said.
“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.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 24, 2014.SHOW MORE