Equine influenza is able to jump from horses to camels, researchers have confirmed.
Scientists in Mongolia and the United States have identified the first known case of an equine influenza virus in camels.
Their findings will be published in the December issue of the journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve been amazed at all the cross-species jumps of influenza. Now we’re finding yet another,” said Gregory Gray, environmental and global health professor in the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions.
The inter-mammalian transmission of the virus is a major concern for public health researchers interested in controlling the threat of influenza spread, he said.
Camels have recently been implicated in the transfer of the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome virus to man. This new discovery further demonstrates the potential role of camels in the ecology of zoonotic diseases, which are passed from animals to humans. Other examples include SARS virus, Ebola virus, and some harmful strains of E. coli.
“Similar influenza viruses can move from horses to humans,” Gray said. “If a camel has it, why couldn’t they share it with humans?”
The study took place in 2012 in three Mongolian provinces, where free-range camels and horses mingle.
Hundreds of camel and horse nasal samples were collected, and one camel specimen was confirmed to have influenza A. Tests found it matched viruses in Mongolian horses.
The research showed the importance of improved surveillance for zoonotic diseases in camels to better understand the potential risk to humans, he said.
“It adds another potential exposure to man where a novel virus could hide out, if you will, in camels and later surprise us and infect humans,” Gray said.
This could affect animal caretakers, especially in places where people have close contact with camels such as the Middle East, Africa, and Australia.
More research was necessary to fully understand the virus and how it was transmitted, but Gray said the discovery “adds another dimension to what we do”.
“Knowing that influenza virus can jump between horses and camels will reshape how we understand the ecology of novel influenza viruses which may affect man,” he said.
The project was funded by the US National Institutes of Health and involved the Institute of Veterinary Medicine in Mongolia as well as the J. Craig Venter Institute and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The findings can be read ahead of print here.