Saudi Arabia will test camels in the kingdom for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), its agriculture minister was quoted as saying, a day after a Saudi study reinforced a long-suspected link between the animals and human cases of the deadly virus.
There have been 691 confirmed cases of MERS, including 284 deaths, in Saudi Arabia since it was identified two years ago, and many scientists have said for months that camels are the most likely source of transmission from animals to humans.
A case study published on Wednesday of a Saudi man who died from the disease last year appeared to back that up, scientists said.
Agriculture Minister Fahad Balghunaim said a program to register and number livestock including camels had begun last year and would be accelerated, the Arab News English-language daily reported.
He said all camel livestock would be tested for MERS and the Saudi Wildlife Authority would also take samples from wild camels roaming freely in the desert to establish the level of infection from MERS in the wider animal population.
Imported camels would also be tested for MERS and quarantined, Arab News reported him as saying. A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the issue.
Although the link between camels and MERS was first identified last year, the Agriculture Ministry had taken no action by as late as last month.