The virus responsible for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) may also infect humans through their intestinal tracts, a new study suggests.

The findings, published in the US journal Science Advances, indicated that MERS infections can spread through fecal to oral transmission or fomite transmission when the virus persists in the environment for a prolonged period.

“The MERS epidemic has persisted for five years. Because MERS primarily manifests as a respiratory infection, airway exposure is intuitively assumed to be the only infection route,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist of the University of Hong Kong, who led the study.

“Our study suggested that the human intestinal tract may serve as an alternative infection route for MERS,” Yuen wrote in an email to Xinhua.