Fragments of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have been found in the air, suggesting it has the potential to be transmitted this way. The air samples were taken from a barn housing camels afflicted with the disease, a team of virologists from Saudi Arabia -- where the virus first surfaced in 2012 -- explain in a paper published in mBio. Camels are thought to be the animal reservoir of the virus, but little is know about how it is transmitted to humans.
We are closer to confirming the animal's role, however, after an investigation in Qatar suggested those working closely with camels are at higher risk of infection and another study revealed MERS-CoV antibodies had been identified in the animal. Both results suggest, says the World Health Organisation, that camels are indeed the "likely primary source" of human infection, not bats as was first presumed. Around 700 cases of the virus have been reported since 2012, and 208 of those people have since died. It has been assumed that close contact with infected individuals and, potentially, persistent contact with infected animals has been the main cause of the virus spread. The exact parameters of that transmission, however, are still not known. And this latest study presents a troubling suggestion that it could in fact be an airborne delivery. The Saudi Arabian team had been investigating a potential case of MERS-CoV being transmitted to the owner of four infected camels. During that study, they collected three air samples in November 2013 over a period of days from the barn in which the animals resided. The owner's camels had exhibited signs of the disease just one week before he fell ill -- he had even administered a nasal treatment to one of these camels. The air samples were immediately analysed using a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test that is used to identify RNA. Only one sample came back as being positive for signs of the virus -- the sample that was collected on the first day. On that same day, at the start of the intervention, one of the camels was diagnosed as having MERS-CoV. To confirm the find, the researchers also did a partial genome sequence on the fragment. Finally, these results were compared with those from the now deceased owner. It showed that "the virus is identical to the original isolates obtained from the nasal samples collected from the patient and the infected camel" -- the owner and the camel both had the same strain, and that same strain was in the air. http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-07/22/mers-airborne