For the first time since the virus’ emergence earlier this year, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been confirmed in an animal host. The virus itself, rather than the antibodies against it, has been found in a camel belonging to a man also infected with MERS. Tests are currently underway to isolate the virus strains in the man and camel respectively. The Saudi Health Ministry is quoted as saying that if the strains are identical, it “would be a first scientific discovery worldwide, and a door to identify the source of the virus.” In three prior outbreak clusters, the first patient to become ill had prior contact with camels.
The presence of the virus in camels seems to support the most popular theory of the virus’ transmission, involving bats as the primary reservoir and camels as the main vector. However, it is still unclear what contributes to the virus’ selective infection within camels, as previous studies sampling the animals have returned negative for presence of the virus or its antibodies.
According to the most recent WHO numbers, there have been 153 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS, including 64 deaths. The virus most commonly causes symptoms associated with severe respiratory illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath), but can also cause diarrhea, renal failure, and shock.