A new study into what “reservoir” may be fueling the outbreak found that antibodies for the MERS coronavirus, or one very similar, are widespread among dromedary camels in the region.
But the World Health Organization cautioned that many people infected with the virus caught it from other people, while most of the others with MERS had not been around any camels.
The link between the virus and camels is of particular concern because of the upcoming Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage that draws millions of the faithful to Mecca, where they must participate in the sacrifice of an animal.
Camels are also important in the Middle East as a source of meat and milk. They are used as a beast of burden and for racing, as well as for pets.
It was discovered soon after MERS emerged last year that it was related to a virus found in bats.
Medical experts then theorized that since humans don’t often come in contact with bats, the flying mammals were infecting other animals that later passed the virus on to people.
The disease has killed many of those infected with symptoms that include fever, coughing and respiratory difficulties. Some patients also experienced kidney failure.