One hump or two? It turns out that the common cold virus – going around parts of the country right now – has its birth in camels, according to new research the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers at the University Hospital of Bonn in Germany had been investigating MERS when they made the unexpected discovery.
Professor Christian Drosten, one of the team, said: “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 per cent of the cases.” Since these camels were from the Middle East, they must have been one-humped Dromedary camels, not to be confused with their distant cousins with two humps, the Bactrian camels.
Many mammals have their own species specific corona virus, and the illness it causes in each species varies. We catch a cold (those darn camels), and we feel rotten, our noses run, eyes water and we sneeze and cough. Cats get the corona virus, and they feel just a little off, may have an upset tummy or there are no discernable symptoms (I put it this way because cats mask illness so well). Unfortunately, in some cats, for unknown reasons, the benign enteric corona virus mutates within the cat into a fatal immune-mediated disease, called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
Influenza, for example, is thought to have made the jump from birds to humans several times in the past. When visiting mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda veterinarians are concerned about humans getting really close to the habituated gorillas, who would get far sicker than we do as they have no immunity to our viruses, yet they are susceptible. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 is estimated to have killed three to five per cent of the world’s population because people then didn’t have any immunity to that virus, novel at the time.
Flu bugs and other viruses don’t only jump to people. It was an equine flu bug that jumped to dogs to cause the first strain of canine influenza virus in the U.S.
All this means – next time a camel spits in your face – be sure to wipe it off, and then disinfect.