Study: Human cold virus originally transmitted by camels

MERS and the HCoV-229E cold virus come from camels
Surely you have had a cold before in your life. But did you also know that the human cold originated in camels? Researchers have now made an unexpected discovery in their research on MERS. They found that one of the common colds has its animal origin in dromedaries. The dreaded MERS virus also comes from the camels.

Scientists from the University Hospital Bonn found in an investigation that the origin of our human colds actually has its animal origin in dromedaries. The experts from Germany published a press release on the results of their study. The results were also published in the English-language Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Doctors find the origin of the HCoV-229E cold virus
There are four human so-called corona viruses that are spread all over the world. In addition to the rhinoviruses known to us, the corona viruses are also responsible for colds, the authors explain. Most of these infections are relatively harmless in humans. The German scientists from Bonn have now succeeded in determining the origin of one of the four human cold corona viruses known as HCoV-229E.

HCoV-229E and MERS are both camels
The author Christian Drosten from the University Hospital Bonn explains that HCoV-229E, like the dreaded MERS virus, comes from camels. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus was first detected in humans in 2012. MERS is a coronavirus that can cause serious respiratory infections. Unfortunately, the disease often takes a fatal course. It has been known for some time that the MERS corona virus has its animal origin in dromedaries, explains the doctor.

Researchers are studying about 1,000 camels for their study
The team of scientists worked for the focus "New Emerging Infectious Diseases" of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). For their research on the MERS virus, the doctors examined around 1,000 camels for corona viruses. Surprisingly, the experts were able to detect pathogens in almost six percent of the camels examined that are clearly related to the HCoV-229E cold virus in humans, explains Professor Dr. Christian Drosten.

Cold virus spread from camels to humans
Through further molecular-genetic studies comparing cold viruses in dromedaries, bats and humans, it could then be determined that the HCoV-229E cold virus was really transmitted from camels to humans, says Professor Drosten.

Viruses from camels can in principle also penetrate humans
The scientists isolated the living cold virus from a camel. This enabled them to determine that these viruses can also penetrate human cells in principle. This is done via the same receptors as for the cold virus HCoV-229E, the authors explain. Fortunately, the human immune system can ward off these camel viruses as well as the common cold virus, the doctors add.

Human population largely immune to animal colds
Various tests with human serum and animal colds have shown that the human population is largely immune to the camel viruses. The reason for this is the widespread use of HCoV-229E in the human population.

Worldwide distribution of MERS not yet possible
But what about the MERS virus in humans? There are always small outbreaks caused by the enigmatic pathogen, say the doctors. However, these are usually only local and limited to a single clinic, for example. Fortunately, the virus has not yet been able to adapt perfectly to humans, which is why it cannot be spread worldwide, explains Professor Drosten.

The HCoV-229E virus was originally not optimally adapted to humans either
Current investigations into the precursor viruses of the human HCoV-229E virus in camels have shown that these viruses are similar to the MERS viruses. It could be observed that these predecessor viruses are also not optimally adapted to us humans, explains Drosten.

Was a pandemic the cause of the distribution of HCoV-229E in humans?
What really worries medical professionals is that the worldwide spread of the HCoV-229E virus was through a so-called human-to-human transmission. The German researchers suspect that this was probably the result of a major pandemic in the past.

MERS vaccine will go into clinical trial next year
So the current study provides something of a kind of warning signal regarding the existing danger of a pandemic caused by MERS viruses. Perhaps it is also possible for MERS to go the same way as the HCoV-229E virus, the experts speculate. For this reason, there is an urgent need for action. The scientists at the German Center for Infection Research are already working flat out to research a reliable vaccine against the MERS virus. The drug is expected to enter clinical trials early next year, the scientists say. (as)

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