MERS Virus: Camel Vaccine Could Hold The Cure For Deadly Outbreak

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The MERS virus has already killed 68 people in Saudi Arabia, and health workers are reportedly in a panic that the outbreak could continue to spread.

This weekend a foreigner in Saudi Arabia died of the virus, formally known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Health officials confirmed that there are eight others infected in the country, including five health workers.

The death of the 45-year-old man this weekend brings the MERS virus death count in Saudi Arabia to 68, and health officials are still scrambling to find the origins of the virus.

A study in February suggested that camels may have a role in spreading the virus, which is similar to SARS though much deadlier. The finding poses problems for a region in which camels are raced, traded, kept as pets, and eaten.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the cure to the MERS virus may be in treating the camels themselves.

“Don’t let the camels get infected. If the camels do get infected, make sure they don’t transmit to humans. If humans do get infected, make sure they don’t transmit to other humans,” he told TIME. “So for each link in the chain of transmission, you’re trying to break it, and ideally the best way to break it is to keep camels from getting infected.”

Across the region, public health officials are trying to quell a panic related to the virus. In Abu Dhabi, the head of the UAE Ministry of Health announced that the outbreak is not a public health concern and that health authorities are taking all necessary measures per recommendations of the World Health Organization.

But while public officials may be trying to reassure people who live on the region, those that contract the MERS virus face a grim prognosis. The World Health Organization noted that of the 212 confirmed cases of the virus, 88 have died, a 42 percent mortality rate.