Spatial association between primary Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection and exposure to dromedary camels in Saudi Arabia.Zoonoses Public Health. 2020 06; 67(4):382-390.ZP
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an emerging zoonotic disease. Exposure to dromedary camels (Camelus dromedaries) has been consistently considered the main source of primary human infection. Although Saudi Arabia reports the highest rate of human MERS-CoV infection and has one of the largest populations of dromedary camels worldwide, their spatial association has not yet been investigated. Thus, this study aimed to examine the correlation between the spatial distribution of primary MERS-CoV cases with or without a history of camel exposure reported between 2012 and 2019 and dromedary camels at the provincial level in Saudi Arabia. In most provinces, a high proportion of older men develop infections after exposure to camels. Primary human infections during spring and winter were highest in provinces characterized by seasonal breeding and calving, increased camel mobilization and camel-human interactions. A strong and significant association was found between the total number of dromedary camels and the numbers of primary camel-exposed and non-exposed MERS-CoV cases. Furthermore, spatial correlations between MERS-CoV cases and camel sex, age and dairy status were significant. Via a cluster analysis, we identified Riyadh, Makkah and Eastern provinces as having the most primary MERS-CoV cases and the highest number of camels. Transmission of MERS-CoV from camels to humans occurs in most primary cases, but there is still a high proportion of primary infections with an ambiguous link to camels. The results from this study include significant correlations between primary MERS-CoV cases and camel populations in all provinces, regardless of camel exposure history. This supports the hypothesis of the role of an asymptomatic human carrier or, less likely, an unknown animal host that has direct contact with both infected camels and humans. In this study, we performed a preliminary risk assessment of prioritization measures to control the transmission of infection from camels to humans.