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SASTM Newsflash - MERS-CoV - Eastern Mediterranean: Animal reservoir,OIE


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Questions and answers: MERS coronavirus (CoV)


1. What is the source of MERS-CoV?

OIE together with its partner organizations the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and national animal health authorities of affected countries are closely following investigations into a possible animal source of MERS-CoV.


The current epidemiological investigation includes researching potential sources of exposure to the virus, which are numerous and include other humans, the environment, food and water, as well as animals. Detailed information collected from relatives and other persons in contact with people infected with MERS-CoV can help to provide important clues about the source of their infection.


2. Can animals become infected with MERS-CoV?

To date, MERS-CoV has not been detected in animals.


3. Are animals responsible for MERS-CoV infections in people?

To date, there is no evidence that people have become infected through contact with animals. However, there is also a possibility that MERS-CoV may have evolved from other coronaviruses that have been circulating in certain animals.


4. Did MERS-CoV come from bats?

Although a relative to this virus has been detected in bat species, more evidence is needed to directly link the MERS-CoV to bats or any other animal species.


5. What about the suspicion that camels play a role in MERS?

Currently, there is no strong evidence to suggest that camels are a source of infection for human cases of MERS. MERS-CoV has not been identified in camels, and current information from human cases does not suggest that exposure to camels is an important risk factor. It is important to remain open minded about all potential sources of exposure for human cases until more evidence is available.


6. What about serological tests in animals?

Serology tests aim to detect antibodies produced by the animal against the virus and not to search for the presence of the virus itself. Often, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to distinguish antibodies to different viruses having genetic or antigenic

similarities, due to what is known as serological "cross reactivity".


Serology tests for MERS-CoV have not yet been validated in animals and may not be reliable. If these tests, which may not be sufficiently specific, are used in animals, there is a risk that false-positive results will occur, because it may not be possible to differentiate antibodies to MERS-CoV from antibodies to other coronaviruses commonly found in animals. That is why tests in animals should focus on

isolating and identifying the virus itself.


7. What would happen if MERS-CoV is identified in animals?

If information from public health investigations identifies a possible animal source, OIE will support further joint investigations.


OIE member countries would be obliged to report a confirmed case of MERS-CoV in animals to OIE as an emerging disease in accordance with article 1.1.3 of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. If MERS-CoV was identified in an animal, this would not necessarily mean that the animal is a source of human infection. Detailed investigations would then be needed to understand the relationship between any animal cases and human cases, and whether a finding in animals would be significant

for human infection.


8. What is OIE doing?

OIE is working closely with WHO to support investigations into a possible animal source: an OIE expert participated in a WHO mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in June 2013 to investigate the source of MERS-CoV. OIE also has a global informal network of experts on coronaviruses in animals who are closely monitoring the situation.


OIE develops and publishes international standards and guidelines on the prevention and control of animal diseases including zoonoses (animal diseases transmissible to humans). These science-based standards provide guidance on the best control measures which should be applied, where appropriate, to allow control of infection in the identified animal source.


The OIE is the reference organisation for international standards relating to animal health and zoonoses under the World Trade Organization Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS Agreement). Decisions related to safe trade in terrestrial animals and animal products must respect the standards, recommendations, and guidelines

found in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code.


Communicated by: ProMED-mail


[The initiative of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to publish the above Q&A addressing the potential veterinary aspects of the emerging MERS coronavirus (CoV) is timely and warmly welcomed. It reflects the "One Health" approach endorsed by the OIE.


Validation of serology tests for MERS-CoV in animals deserves to be





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The information provided in SASTM Newsflashes is collected from various news sources, health agencies and government agencies. Although the information is believed to be accurate, any express or implied warranty as to its suitability for any purpose is categorically disclaimed. In particular, this information should not be construed to serve as medical advice for any individual. The health information provided is general in nature, and may not be appropriate for all persons. Medical advice may vary because of individual differences in such factors as health risks, current medical conditions and treatment, allergies, pregnancy and breast feeding, etc. In addition, global health risks are constantly evolving and changing. International travelers should consult a qualified physician for medical advice prior to departure.

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