Nearly one-fifth of camels in Saudi Arabia harbour a respiratory virus that emerged in 2012 in humans.

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has infected more than 1,600 people in 26 countries, killing 584. On the basis of previous evidence that camels carry the virus, a team led by Huachen Zhu and Yi Guan at the University of Hong Kong–Shenzhen Branch in China looked for MERS-CoV and related viruses in 1,309 dromedary camels in Saudi Arabia. One in four camels tested positive for human coronavirus genetic material, and nearly 20% carried a MERS-CoV strain. Some animals carried the lineage that caused a South Korean outbreak this year. Further genome sequencing suggested that this lineage emerged in camels between December 2013 and June 2014, after two viruses recombined.

Preventing camel-to-human transmission is the best way to limit the threat of the virus, the authors say.

Science (2015)