Coronaviruses, the family of viruses to which SARS belongs, are a group of viruses that have a crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under an electron microscope. (Image credit: CDC/ Dr. Fred Murphy)

Camels are carriers of the new Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus, according to a new study.

The researchers used genetic sequencing methods to identify a strain of the MERS virus in camels on a Qatar farm where two people caught the disease. The virus found in the camels was very similar, but not identical, to the MERS virus seen in people.

The study provides "definitive proof that camels can be infected with MERS-CoV," the researchers said, using the official name of the virus.

However, the study cannot prove that people caught the virus from camels. It's possible that humans gave the virus to the camels, or that both humans and camels were infected by an unidentified third source, the researchers said.

Previously, the researchers found that camels had developed antibodies against the MERS virus.

So far, health officials have reported 163 human cases of MERS, including 71 people who died. All of these cases could be traced back to the Middle East region.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.