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Virus origin mystery deepens

Friday September 20th, 2013

A new study deepens the mystery of where a deadly new virus in the Middle East has come from, researchers reveal today.

Some 52 people have so far died from MERS-CoV infection and several health workers at hospitals in Saudi-Arabia have been affected.

The virus is thought to have originated from animals in Africa, possibly camels.

But a new study suggests it has jumped from animals to humans several times.

A study of 21 patients also suggests the virus may be using some humans as carriers.

Researchers say that although the virus seems to be infectious between humans, this may not be enough to cause an epidemic. Two major gatherings in Saudi-Arabia over the last year have passed without outbreaks.

British experts worked with researchers in Saudi-Arabia on the latest study, reported in The Lancet. They used advanced techniques for DNA analysis to trace the evolution of the virus.

Researcher Professor Paul Kellam, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK, said: "Our findings suggest that different lineages of the virus have originated from the virus jumping across to humans from an animal source a number of times."

Researcher Professor Ziad Memish, Saudi deputy minister of health, said: "The animal source of MERS-CoV and the way that it is transmitted to humans is not yet known. This information is critical for developing interventions for reducing the risk of transmission, defining the epidemiology and developing effective control measures."

Lancet 20 September 2013 [abstract]

Tags: Asia | Flu & Viruses | UK News

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