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    Jun 06, 2014

    Human-camel Mers link found


    A SAUDI man who died from the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) virus probably caught it after caring for one of his sick camels, the most conclusive evidence so far that the humped mammals can infect humans.

    The 44-year-old man died in November, about a month after treating a dromedary camel with nasal discharge, researchers from the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia wrote in the New England Journal Of Medicine. Samples taken from both patient and camel found a genetically identical virus, the authors said.

    Previous studies found the bug in camels, from the Canary Islands to Ethiopia, along with signs that many of the people infected had contact with the animals. But there had been no conclusive evidence of transmission until now.

    "Camels may act as intermediate hosts that transmit the virus from its reservoir to humans," the authors wrote. "The exact reservoir that maintains the virus in its (ecological) niche has yet to be identified."

    The man in the study had kept nine camels in a barn about 75km south of Jeddah, the authors wrote. The patient and three of his friends visited the camels daily. The owner fell ill about seven days after applying a topical medicine in the nose of one of the four sick camels, his friends told scientists. The friends, who had no direct contact with the animals' secretions, remained free of the virus.

    The man first developed fever, a runny nose and cough, followed by severe shortness of breath which caused him to be hospitalised. He died two weeks later.

    Saudi Arabia on Wednesday increased its estimate of the death toll from the virus to 282 from 190, and the total number of cases to 688 from 575, after a review of cases stretching back to 2012. The government also fired deputy health minister Ziad Memish, six weeks after relieving health minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah of his duties.

    Mers first came to light when a 60-year-old Saudi man died with severe pneumonia and kidney failure in Jeddah in June 2012. The virus has since spread globally, with cases reported in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States.

    The virus belongs to the same family of pathogens as Sars, which killed about 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China more than a decade ago.