Muscat: Killer coronavirus Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in five racing camels in Oman, says the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MOAF).
Speaking to the Times of Oman, Dr Fuad bin Ja'afar Al Sajwani, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, said that the camels that tested positive in Oman were all racing camels. "So we are not sure whether they caught the virus in Oman or from outside Oman."
The first indication came a few months back when antibodies were found in 50 camels in Oman using serological tests.
Serological tests are conducted when an infection is suspected. "A few weeks back, we conducted a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on 76 sampled camels to detect if they carried MERS-CoV. These samples were sent to Vienna in Austria and results showed five camels had tested positive," said Dr Hadi Mohsin Al Lawati, Director of Animal Health Department, MOAF, speaking on the sidelines of a two-day regional meeting on MERS-CoV, which started in the capital area Tuesday.
PCR is a biochemical technology used to amplify a single or a few copies of a piece of DNA across several orders of magnitude, generating thousands to millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence. "When you are tested positive in a serology test, chances are there that these camels had MERS-CoV or a similar disease earlier, but a PCR test which is recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO), confirms that they are currently suffering with this disease," said Aron J. Hall, Epidemiologist, Division of Viral Diseases, National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, United States.
Camels testing positive identified
Dr Abdulmajeed Al Rawahi, Director, Animal Health Research Centre, Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries, said a joint surveillance activity was started by the MOAF, Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) after the first reported human case in October, 2013.
"Then, serum and nasal swab samples were collected from randomly selected healthy camels belonging to different governorates of Oman and samples were sent to Vienna for molecular diagnosis through the SQU," he said.
Besides five camels, there have been two cases of MERS-related deaths recorded last year in Oman.
He also said that camels that tested positive were identified and their movement had been restricted immediately. "They are now under clinical surveillance and samples were acquired again from the same camels and also from other camels that had come in contact with them.
"A team of the MoH visited the location where the affected camels were kept. They conducted a detail investigation to find out if any animal to human transmission has taken place. But until now, no such case has been found," he said.
In his presentation, he said that the transmission of the virus from camels to humans is questionable. "Most of the outbreaks are hospital acquired infection and only a few cases point towards patients having contracted via camels," he said.
He also said that till date no case has been reported from a camel owner or livestock worker in Oman. "So, no transmission of virus from camel to human has taken place in Oman," he asserted.
He recommended that transmission studies are of great importance to know the epidemiological characteristics of disease. "The current diagnostic tools in different animals need to be evaluated and scientific guidelines should be set to react in the wake of positive human and animal cases," he said.
The regional technical consultation meeting on MERS-CoV is expected to come out with a better understanding of the respiratory virus and its link with camels. The meeting is being organised by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in collaboration with the MOAF. It is expected to establish coordinated initiatives among countries for effective monitoring of the virus in animals. Members from 11 countries and eight international organisations are participati