These desert dwellers have also given us something far more deadly.
Researchers have traced one of the common cold viruses — HCoV-229E, or Human coronavirus 229E — back to camels, pointing to a scenario in which the virus “established itself in humans after it was likely acquired from camels,” according to a new study in PNAS.
They came to the conclusion while studying the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, which, in 2012, was found to have originally jumped from bats to camels, and then from camels to humans.
"In our MERS investigations we examined about 1,000 camels for coronaviruses and were surprised to find pathogens that are related to 'HCoV-229E', the human common cold virus, in almost six percent of the cases," said Christian Drosten, from the University Hospital of Bonn in Germany, in a press release. Further genetic comparison of cold viruses in humans, camels, and bats revealed that the camel cold virus was the best match to the one found in humans.
The fact that both viruses — HCoV-229E and MERS — originated in camels may raise cause for concern over whether the MERS could spread globally through human-to-human transmission, similar to the cold virus.
As of yet, the MERS virus “has not adapted well enough to humans, and has consequently been unable to spread globally…” says Drosden. However, the new study “gives us a warning sign regarding the risk of a MERS pandemic--because MERS could perhaps do what HCoV-229E did," he adds.
Since 2012, the World Health Organization has been notified of 640 MERS-related deaths. The exact route of its transmission from camels to humans is still not fully understood, and no vaccine is currently available.