The Common Cold Came From … a Camel?

The Common Cold Came From … a Camel?
Science & Medicine

New research suggests that the first human to ever catch a cold may have gotten it from his or her camel. Scientists at the University of Bonn stumbled upon the discovery while investigating Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

A more aggressive and deadly virus than the common cold, MERS first appeared in humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Although camels most often carry MERS, it can spread to humans in rare cases. And when studying the virus, researchers found that it was incredibly similar to the cold virus in at least 6% of cases. [1]

“In our MERS investigations, we examined about 1,000 camels for coronaviruses and were surprised to find pathogens that are related to ‘HCoV-229E’, the human common cold virus, in almost six per cent of the cases,” stated Christian Drosten, who was on the investigative team. [2]


When scientists pulled samples of a camel’s cold virus, it was found to be capable of infecting humans as well. However, scientists state that there is no reason to fear a new outbreak of it, as most humans are already immune to this version of the virus.

Scientists say that many viruses are thought to have originated in other animals and then mutated to be able to find hosts in humans. The Independent sites that the 1918 deadly flu outbreak might have originated with birds before infecting people, killing 3 to 5% of the population of the entire world. [2]

The MERS virus, however, is not quite able to spread to humans very easily because of the way it is adapted. Researchers say that often very deadly viruses don’t stay alive for a long time because they simply kill their hosts, making it impossible for them to continue to spread.

Scientists don’t think this virus has much of a risk of spreading globally, but the World Health Organization has warned people not to drink camel urine, as this can actually be one of the causes of the infection. Consuming camel urine as medicine is common in some parts of the world, specifically in Islamic cultures. As long as people stay away from doing this, they are not very likely to develop MERS. [3]


[1] PNAS

[2] The Independent

[3] CDC