Dr. James Noah, an infectious disease specialist at the Southern Research Institute, posted the following response to this recent New York Times article on Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on our Facebook page:
Zoonesis occurs any time that a disease transmits naturally from a vertebrate animal to a human. This process happens every day with bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. In the viral world, a sustained and re-occurring zoonesis is seen with influenza viruses, where humans and animals trade different strains frequently. An example of a terminal zoonesis would be rabies, which is tolerated in animals but is close to 100% fatal in humans. New examples of zooneses are increasingly observed (likely due to our increasingly advanced surveillance programs), and when they do, there is a quiet but determined search for the animal reservoir of the emerging pathogen. In 2012, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) emerged with a high human mortality, and last month a putative reservoir for the virus was identified in camels. Camels are used for transportation, entertainment, and food in the affected regions of the Middle East. They also have a high infection rate for MERS and may be responsible for the unexplained spread of the respiratory virus. However, they appear to be asymptomatic when infected, and this may pose a problem for disease containment and control. I agree with Dr. Lipkin's assessment; how do you identify respiratory virus symptoms in a slobbering, spitting camel?
Adapting global influenza management strategies to address emerging viruses is a related AJP-Lung article from July 2013 by Dr. Noah and his wife, Diana L. Noah.