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MERS antibodies detected in Marsabit camels

Wednesday April 29 2020

A vet administers drugs to camels in Shuur, Marsabit County following an outbreak of a mysterious disease that killed hundreds of camels in the region. PHOTO | KEN BETT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A vet administers drugs to camels. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 


Authorities in Marsabit County are concerned over the outcome of an ongoing longitudinal study that established the risk of local camels’ exposure to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), normally referred to as MERS.

The research by the Washington State University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with county government, has been going on since 2018.

According to Marsabit Veterinary Services Director Dr Bokhu Bodha, the preliminary reports have been indicative of the camels being asymptomatic carriers of the illness at some point.

“I want to go straight on record and clarify that there have been studies done for over two years that have indicated that there are suppressed cases of the virus, but camels have strong antibodies rendering the virus inactive. Nonetheless precautions ought to be taken,” Dr Bodha said.


He attributed the current inactivity of the disease in the camels to robust antibodies that are able to suppress the illness.


However, so far no cases of transmission from animals to human beings have been reported.

Samples were taken from more than 200 animals in a link study that involved the participant households.

Dr Bodha held that the preliminary findings established that the livestock were exposed to the virus thus necessitating the isolation from one of the herds.

He further explained that the research was carried in areas such as Dirib Gombo, Hulla Hulla, Kambinye, Shegel, Kamboi within Saku Sub-county and other areas in Laisamis Sub-county.

Samples were tested at government laboratories at Kemri and CDC headquarters in Nairobi, and others in the US.

Dr Wario Sori of Marsabit's Livestock and Fisheries unit said more attention should be given to animal health in the country.

“We are working with partners to better understand the risks of this virus, including the source, how it spreads, and how to prevent infections,” Dr Sori said.

He called for action to avert potential MERS-CoV outbreak that badly exposes more than 80 percent of the population in the county who rely on livestock keeping as their mainstay economic activity.

He called on the national government to swing into action and institute mitigating measures to avert any looming danger posed by the virus in the county.


According to the CDC, MERS likely came from an animal source in the Arabian Peninsula. Dromedary camels are thought to be a major host for the virus and a source of MERS infection in humans.

The virus does not pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, the CDC says.

The disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Researchers have found MERS in camels from several countries. Studies have shown that direct contact with camels is a risk factor for human infection with the virus.

CDC Further states that MERS, like other coronaviruses, likely spreads from an infected person’s respiratory secretions, such as through coughing.

Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against MERS.

Other livestock disease outbreaks that have been reported in the county include the Contagious Caprine pleuropneumonia (CCPP) -- also known as goat pneumonia -- in Laisamis Sub-county and goat anaemia (anasplasmosis) in Moyale Sub-county.