I was perusing through a veterinary magazine that discussed infectious diseases in the U.S. and abroad when I found an article about Kazakhstan that piqued my interest. The subject matter was the prevalence of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the country. This article stood out among the rest due to a personal bias: I associate MERS-CoV research with a vet I met in Hong Kong last summer, and I also happen to have a good friend from Almaty. The combination was enough for me to actually read the findings of the seroepidemiologic survey and not simply skim it and jump to the next article.
Dromedary camels are a natural host of the virus, but what was not known was if the virus was endemic in all populations of dromedary camels, not only those living in Africa and the Middle East. After sampling camels from many different regions in Kazakhstan, the research team discovered that that particular strain of the virus is not endemic to dromedaries there. This opens up the possibility of there being a natural reservoir other than the camel, which will change the way in which the disease is diagnosed and caught. I am not an epidemiologist but am excited by their work and ability to track spillover events from species to species. Just like the recent die-off of saigas in central Asia, there remain many unanswered questions regarding the presence of MERS-CoV in camels, but many vets are working hard to solve both mysteries.