x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

First camel tests positive for Mers: Saudi

Saudi Arabia says it is attemping to isolate the deadly virus, known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and hopes the camel can help to identify its source.

Camels in Qassim desert, 350kms north of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Hassan Ammar / AFP
Camels in Qassim desert, 350kms north of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Hassan Ammar / AFP

RIYADH // A camel has tested positive for Mers, the first case of an animal infected with the coronavirus that has killed 64 people worldwide, the Saudi government said on Monday.

The camel was owned by a person diagnosed as having Mers and had “tested positive in preliminary laboratory checks”, the health ministry said.

The ministry said it was working with the ministry of agriculture and laboratories to “isolate the virus and compare its genetic structure with that of the patient’s”.

If the virus carried by the camel and that of the patient “prove to be identical, this would be a first scientific discovery worldwide, and a door to identify the source of the virus”, the ministry added.

The camel was diagnosed in the western province of Jeddah, it said.

Experts are struggling to understand the virus known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, for which there is no vaccine.

It is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the Sars virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine per cent of whom died.

In August, researchers pointed to Arabian camels as possible hosts of the virus, which has hit hardest in the desert kingdom, where 53 people have died from the disease since it appeared in September last year.

Like Sars, Mers appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering from a temperature, cough and breathing difficulty.

But it differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure, and its extremely high death rate has caused serious concern.

In other Arabian Gulf countries, two fatalities from the Mers virus have been registered in Qatar, as well as one announced on Sunday by Oman.

The World Health Organisation said on its website on Monday that it had been informed of 153 laboratory-confirmed cases of the Mers infection worldwide so far, including 64 deaths.

* Agence France-Presse