MERS 'Likely to Reach' Australia as Deadly Virus Continues to Spread Outside Middle East

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By Reissa Su | May 29, 2014 3:52 PM EST

The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) may be on its way to Australia, according to health authorities.

REUTERS/National Institute for
Particles of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus that emerged in 2012 are seen in an undated colorized transmission electron micrograph from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). REUTERS/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Handout via Reuters

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The deadly virus that began in the Middle East has already claimed 200 lives around the world while 600 people were afflicted with the virus since it was first detected in 2012.

In a report by ABC, Australia's chief medical officer Professor Chris Baggoley said MERS will reach the country. He just came back from a trip to Geneva where he serves as chairman for the World Health Organisation's committee focused on the MERS virus.

Baggoley said it was likely Australia will get a MERS virus case since 11 countries have reported incidents.

Authorities have found that MERS is related to another deadly virus, SARS, which killed 800 people around the world in 2002. Although the virus is less contagious than SARS, MERS is considered deadlier.

Australians who wish to travel to the Middle East have been warned to remain vigilant. Baggoley said if ever Australia gets its first case of MERS, authorities will be well-prepared.

Samples of the MERS virus are stored in CSIRO's highly secure laboratories in Geelong for researchers to study. They have been studying the virus for the last 12 months and analysing the genetic make-up of the virus.  They are also checking how various immune systems react to the virus in an attempt to develop a MERS screening test.

Researchers are also testing Australian camels if they have the MERS virus. Based on earlier reports, the MERS virus has contaminated humans through contact with camels.

Central Australia is home to about 300,000 camels. Some of the animals are shipped to the Middle East. However, CSIRO researcher Gary Crameri believes Australian camels don't carry the virus but he says the country has the same bat species which were the original source of MERS.

Crameri said camels in Australia have only existed for more than 100 years but he said contracting the virus from them is still a possibility. Researchers have yet to find infected bats and camels in Australia.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said it has confirmed 632 cases of MERS infection around the world with 193 deaths. 

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(Photo: REUTERS/National Institute for / )
Particles of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus that emerged in 2012 are seen in an undated colorized transmission electron micrograph from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). REUTERS/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Handout via Reuters
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