Three camels recently diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Qatar are being directly linked to two human cases of the coronavirus in the country – the first time such a firm link has been established.
The Supreme Council of Health (SCH) has announced that research it commissioned from the Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands has confirmed that asymptomatic three camels kept in a barn in Qatar are MERS carriers.
Two men who have recently recovered from the virus had been in contact with the animals – a 23-year-old expat who worked on the farm, who exhibited mild symptoms and recovered quickly; and a 61-year-old Qatari man, the owner of the animal barn, who has also since recovered.
In a statement, the SCH said:
“We can confirm that the 3 camels were investigated among a herd of 14 camels, and the samples were collected as part of the epidemiological investigation in coordination between the Public Health Department and the Department of Animal Resources.
It is to be noted that none of the 14 camels showed any sign of disease when the samples were collected. As a precautionary measure, the 14 camels were put in quarantine since the initial sampling and after 40 days as of now, none have shown any symptom or sign of the disease.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that two further Qatar MERS cases, a 48-year-old man and a 61-year-old expat man who both died last week, have also been linked to farm animals, but they have not stated whether camels were involved in these two cases.
This is not the first time camels have been identified as a possible MERS carrier.
In August, a new study published in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases confirmed the long-held belief that MERS came from animals, but discounted the previous theory that bats were somehow infecting humans.
Despite the diagnosis of MERS in the camels in Qatar, the SCH cautions against hasty conclusions about the ability of the virus to transmit from animals to humans:
“The presence of the MERS-CoV is newly recognized among animals, and currently there is neither clear scientific case definition nor enough information as to the role animals may play in transmitting and spreading the diseases.”
The exact cause of MERS, which causes fever, cough and breathing difficulties, is still undetermined. Though it did not originally appear to spread through human-to-human contact, WHO later said that transmission between those in close contact with infected people was possible.
WHO’s latest health update on the MERS virus states that from September 2012 to Nov. 26, it has been informed of 160 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, leading to 68 deaths. The majority of those cases and deaths hail from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Anyone with questions or concerns about MERS in Qatar can call the SCH’s 24/7 hotline: +974-6674-0951.