A vaccine that protects against the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has been shown to be effective in camels, a new study finds.

The vaccine, which was developed by German scientists, reduces the amount of the virus found in the camels infected with the disease, according to the study.

Camels are considered the primary host for the virus, said the study, published today (Dec. 17) in the journal Science. Humans can catch the disease by coming in contact with a sick camel, the researchers wrote. To date, there have been more than 1,600 cases of MERS in 26 countries since the disease first emerged in 2012, according the World Health Organization. Among these cases, nearly 600 people have died from MERS. [8 Things You Should Know About MERS]

An earlier study found that the majority of camels in Saudi Arabia, where the virus was first identified, had been infected with the MERS virus. 

Vaccinating camels against the virus might reduce its spread from camels to humans, the researchers wrote in their study. As with humans, camels sick with MERS develop upper respiratory symptoms.

In the study, the researchers gave four camels the vaccine using a nasal spray, while four other camels received a placebo. Three weeks later, all of the camels were given the MERS virus.

Eight to 10 days later, the camels who received the placebo spray were plagued with runny noses, but the vaccinated camels were not, the study said.

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The researchers also tested samples taken from the camels' respiratory tracts for the presence of the virus. Results showed that the levels were significantly reduced in the camels that had been vaccinated compared with the camels in the placebo group, the study said.

The researchers noted that the vaccine also protects the camels from the related virus that causes camelpox, which is similar to smallpox in humans and can be deadly in the animals.

It's unclear at this point if the same vaccine used in the camels would be effective in humans; however, clinical trials may be on the horizon, the researchers said. 

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