Virologists Norbert Nowotny and Jolanta Kolodziejek of the Institute of Virology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, said MERS-CoV was first detected in June 2012 in a patient from Saudi Arabia, with severe pneumonia. Since then, more than 300 people developed an infection, about a third of whom died.
The finding "indicates (MERS-CoV) transmission between animals and man. The process is referred to as zoonosis. With this knowledge we can specifically react to the spread of the virus," Nowotny said in a statement.
"Vaccinations of camels are currently being discussed. We will thus be able to halt the spread of the virus."
The scientists took samples of nasal and eye tissue from 76 camels from the country of Oman. In five camels they found the MERS-CoV and compared its genetic material with those of MERS-CoV from Qatar and Egypt. The analysis showed the viruses differed from region to region.
"This means that there is no specific 'camel MERS-CoV strain,' but that one virus infects both, camels and humans," Nowotny said.
The study, published in the journal Eurosurveillance, also found virus levels were surprisingly high in the nasal material of camels. These findings might indicate the virus transmission from animals to humans most likely occurred through these contact sites, especially nasal discharge.
So far all infections of MERS in humans occurred in the Arabian Peninsula, but some developed the disease after they returned to their native country in Europe, the researchers said.