Cross-sectional study of MERS-CoV-specific RNA and antibodies in animals that have had contact with MERS patients in Saudi Arabia.J Infect Public Health. 2018 May - Jun; 11(3):331-338.JI
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a newly emerged coronavirus that is associated with a severe respiratory disease in humans in the Middle East. The epidemiological profiles of the MERS-CoV infections suggest zoonotic transmission from an animal reservoir to humans.
This study was designed to investigate animal herds associated with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-infected patients in Saudi Arabia, during the last three years (2014-2016). Nasal swabs and serum samples from 584 dromedary camels, 39 sheep, 51 goats, and 2 cattle were collected. Nasal samples from camels, sheep, goats, and cattle were examined by real-time reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) to detect MERS-CoV RNA, and the Anti-MERS ELISA assay was performed to detect camel humeral immune response (IgG) to MERS-CoV S1 antigen infection. The complete genome sequencing of ten MERS-CoV camel isolates and phylogenetic analysis was performed.
The data indicated that seventy-five dromedary camels were positive for MERS-CoV RNA; the virus was not detected in sheep, goats, and cattle. MERS-CoV RNA from infected camels was not detected beyond 2 weeks after the first positive result was detected in nasal swabs obtained from infected camels. Anti-MERS ELISA assays showed that 70.9% of camels related to human cases had antibodies to MERS-CoV. The full genome sequences of the ten MERS-CoV camel isolates were identical to their corresponding patients and were grouped together within the larger MERS-CoV sequences cluster for human and camel isolates reported form the Arabian Peninsula.
These findings indicate that camels are a significant reservoir for the maintenance of MERS-CoVs, and they are an important source of human infection with MERS.