Looks like Arabian camels might be hiding more than just fat in those furry humps.
Scientists have found evidence that dromedary camels — the ones with just one hump — may be carriers of the lethal coronavirus in the Middle East, which has infected at least 94 people and killed 46 since first appearing in Saudi Arabia last year.
The findings, published Thursday in the journal Lancet Infectious Disease, offer a new clue about where people might be catching the virus — one of the big mysterious surrounding the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.
Virologist Marion Koopmans and her team at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands looked for signs of previous MERS infections in 50 retired racing camels in Oman (blue pin) which borders Saudi Arabia to the south. The team also tested 105 camels in the Canary Islands (red pin), Spain, off the coast of Western Africa.
All 50 Omani camels had antibodies in their blood to the MERS virus or a close relative. And to Koopmans’s surprise, 14 percent of the camels from the Canary Islands also tested positive for the antibodies.
"There is something like MERS infecting camels on the Spanish islands," Koopmans tells Shots. "But the levels of antibodies were much higher in the Omani animals. The camels in Spain may have been exposed to the virus sometime longer ago."
Photo of dromedary camels by stevebrownd50/flickr.com. The map, courtesy of Google and MapLink, highlights the two places were the camels showed signs of MERS infections: Oman (blue pin) and the Canary Islands (red pin).