Qatar Reports Mystery Virus MERS Found in Camels

SARS-like virus has sickened at least 160 worldwide

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Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters

Camels are seen in a farm in Doha, Qatar

Qatar announced on Wednesday that health officials had identified the first cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in camels, furthering speculation about their potential role in the mystery virus’ transmission path.

The three camels, investigated among a herd of 14, were from a barn that has been linked to two people previously confirmed to have contracted and recovered from the SARS-like coronavirus. The discoveries, a collaborative effort between Qatari public and animal health officials, researchers in the Netherlands and the World Health Organization, are only the second instance of MERS being reported in live camels.

(MORE: Is MERS a pandemic-in-waiting?)

Health officials in Saudi Arabia recently revealed that a camel owned by a Jeddah man who had fallen ill with the virus also tested positive. Prior, camels from Oman, Egypt and the Canary Islands had previously shown antibodies to MERS or a closely related virus.

Since mid-2012, scientists have sought to find and confirm the origin of the virus — most speculate that bats are the culprit — and how it spreads between animals and humans. To date, more than a third of the reported 160 human cases have resulted in fatalities. The majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia, but others have appeared in Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and several countries in Western Europe.