From: Martin Enserink, Science
Published June 7, 2014 06:50 AM

MERS Virus and Camel milk

The virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has been found in camel milk. Scientists don’t know whether infected milk can sicken people, but experts say the results are reason enough to warn against drinking raw camel milk, a widespread tradition in the Middle East. The Qatari government has already issued new guidelines recommending that milk be boiled before consumption.

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The new findings come from a group of researchers at Qatar's Supreme Council of Health; the country's Ministry of Environment; Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. They were announced at a press conference in Doha on Wednesday, and a paper about them was submitted to the journal Eurosurveillance today, says Erasmus MC virologist Chantal Reusken, the first author.

The researchers also discovered that almost one in 10 people who come in contact with camels on the job have antibodies against MERS, a sign that they were infected with the virus at some point—although none of them got very sick from it.

Almost 2 years after MERS emerged, it's still unclear how many of the patients become infected. Direct transmission between people occurs, and many of the more than 500 new MERS cases that Saudi Arabia has reported in the past 3 months appear to have occurred in hospitals as a result of inadequate infection control measures. But there isn't evidence yet of widespread human-to-human transmission outside hospitals. And researchers have uncovered more and more evidence that contact with dromedary camels may be a risk factor for getting MERS. Camels in nine countries in the Middle East and Africa have been shown to be infected with MERS, and the virus appears to jump from camels to people, researchers have reported. But where and how it crosses the species barrier is still very unclear.

Man attempting to get camel milk image via Shutterstock.

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