Camels have recently been implicated in the transfer of the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome virus to humans. The new discovery of a equine virus in a camel further demonstrates the potential for their role in zoonotic diseases, which are passed from animals to people. (Credit: Sergio Tittarini/Flickr)

Influenza A jumped from horse to camel

Researchers have discovered the first evidence of an equine influenza virus in camels.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve been amazed at all the cross-species jumps of influenza. Now we’re finding yet another,” says Gregory C. Gray, environmental and global health professor at University of Florida.

Although there is no immediate risk, the inter-mammalian transmission of the virus is a major concern for public health researchers interested in controlling the threat of pandemic influenza, Gray says.

Camels have recently been implicated in the transfer of the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome virus to humans.

The new discovery further demonstrates the potential role of camels in the ecology of zoonotic diseases, which are passed from animals to humans. Other examples include SARS virus, Ebola virus, and some harmful strains of E. coli.

The study is available online from the Centers for Disease Control and will be published in the December issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“Similar influenza viruses can move from horses to humans,” Gray says. “If a camel has it, why couldn’t they share it with humans?”

Are viruses hiding out in camels?

The study took place in 2012 in three Mongolian aimags, or provinces, where free-range camels and horses intermingle. Hundreds of camel and horse nasal samples were collected, and one camel specimen was confirmed to have influenza A. Tests found it matched viruses in Mongolian horses.

The finding  illustrates the importance of improved surveillance for zoonotic diseases in camels to better understand the potential risk to humans, Gray says. “It adds another potential exposure to man where a novel virus could hide out, if you will, in camels and later surprise us and infect humans.”

This could affect animal caretakers, especially in places where people have close contact with camels such as the Middle East, Africa, and Australia.

More research is necessary to fully understand the virus—for example, how it’s transmitted—but Gray says the discovery “adds another dimension to what we do.”

“Knowing that influenza virus can jump between horses and camels will reshape how we understand the ecology of novel influenza viruses which may affect man.”

The US National Institutes of Health funded the study, which also involved the Institute of Veterinary Medicine in Mongolia, the J. Craig Venter Institute, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Source: University of Florida

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