REPORTS ERRONEOUS

Camel deaths caused by bacteria, not viral MERS-CoV — Vets

Say respiratory illnesses have been reported in northern Kenya and the greater Horn of Africa from May.

In Summary

• DVS says camel respiratory illness and deaths have been reported in northern Kenya and the greater Horn of Africa since May.

• Young camels below two years in Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo and Garissa counties  have been having symptoms of nasal discharge, coughing and difficulty in breathing leading to death.

A herd of camels along the Meru-Isiolo grazing zones
A herd of camels along the Meru-Isiolo grazing zones
Image: GERALD MUTETHIA

The deaths of more than 200 camels in Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo and Garissa in the last three months were caused by a bacterial infection, not the MERS-CoV virus, the director of veterinary services has said.

Charles Ochodo, DVS senior deputy director, said lab results from the samples collected show the camels died of Mannheimia haemolytica bacteria and not Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus as reported in sections of the press.

“The camel illness was caused by bacteria (Mannheimia haemolytica). This bacterial infection causes respiratory illness in livestock and subsequent death if not treated. The DVS can confirm that the disease-causing illness and deaths in camels in northern Kenya is therefore NOT MERS-CoV,” he said in a statement.  

In the statement on Thursday, the DVS said it was concerned about the media reports. The department clarified that camel respiratory illness and deaths have been reported in northern Kenya and the greater Horn of Africa from May.

“Surveillance reports indicate that a respiratory syndrome, characterised by nasal discharge, coughing and difficulty in breathing followed by death was affecting young camels below two years in Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo and Garissa counties,” Ochodo said.

He said the DVS investigated the reports between May and June this year to establish the cause of camel sickness and deaths.

According to the DVS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-MERS- is a viral respiratory disease caused by a recently discovered coronavirus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus-MERS-CoV.

The virus was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Although MERS-COV infects both camels and humans, there is limited evidence that it causes severe diseases in camels.

Ochodo said that the majority of human MERS cases have been reported in the Arabian Peninsula, but outside of the Middle-East, human cases are mainly associated with travel from affected areas.

Studies have shown that Kenyan camels have high exposure to a MERS-CoV strain that is different from the virus in the Middle East.

There is limited evidence that the Kenyan strain can cause clinical illness in humans, the deputy director said. 

“Although MERS-CoV and other illnesses like the common cold and the current pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) are caused by the same family of viruses — coronavirus — the specific viruses are different," Ochodo said.

He assured Kenyans that the DVS and the Ministry of Health actively collaborate through a joint office of the Zoonotic Disease Unit to address the risk of disease transmission between animals and humans.

(edited by o. owino)