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Acute Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection in Livestock Dromedaries, Dubai, 2014 - Volume 21, Number 6—June 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

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Acute Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection in Livestock Dromedaries, Dubai, 2014 - Volume 21, Number 6—June 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

Volume 21, Number 6—June 2015


Acute Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection in Livestock Dromedaries, Dubai, 2014

Ulrich WerneryComments to Author , Victor M. Corman, Emily Y.M. Wong, Alan K.L. Tsang, Doreen Muth, Susanna K. P. Lau, Kamal Khazanehdari, Florian Zirkel, Mansoor Ali, Peter Nagy, Jutka Juhasz, Renate Wernery, Sunitha Joseph, Ginu Syriac, Shyna K. Elizabeth, Nissy Annie Georgy Patteril, Patrick C. Y. Woo, and Christian Drosten
Author affiliations: Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (U. Wernery, K. Khazanehdari, R. Wernery, S. Joseph, G. Syriac, S.K. Elizabeth, N.A. Georgy Patteril)University of Bonn Medical Centre, Bonn, Germany (V.M. Corman, F. Zirkel, C. Drosten); German Centre for Infection Research, Bonn (V.M. Corman, F. Zirkel, C. Drosten)University of Hong Kong, China (E.Y.M. Wong, A.K.L. Tsang, D. Muth, S.K.P. Lau, P.C.Y. Woo)Dubai Camel Hospital, Dubai (M. Ali)Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products, Dubai (P. Nagy, J. Juhasz)


Camels carry Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, but little is known about infection age or prevalence. We studied >800 dromedaries of all ages and 15 mother–calf pairs. This syndrome constitutes an acute, epidemic, and time-limited infection in camels <4 years of age, particularly calves. Delayed social separation of calves might reduce human infection risk.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) causes outbreaks and isolated cases of severe respiratory disease in humans. The virus is transmissible from human to human, but the focus of infection has remained in countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Recent reports have shown that dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) across the Arabian Peninsula and parts of eastern and northern Africa have MERS-CoV antibodies (14). Virus detection by reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) and sequencing has confirmed that these antibodies are likely to be caused by infection with the same virus strains that infect humans (5). In singular cases, strong evidence for virus transmission between camels and humans was found (6,7). Infection of dromedaries in the laboratory has confirmed susceptibility and efficient shedding (8). MERS-CoV antibodies were not found in other species of livestock and leisure animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, and horses (9).
In the absence of a MERS-CoV vaccine, the prevention of human infections relies on knowledge of acute infection in camels. Available serologic studies indicate a high prevalence of MERS-CoV in adult camels, suggesting that MERS-CoV infection in camels may target young animals (14). However, only limited data on the age of animals at infection and the degree of age-specificity are available (5).
To best approximate the actual infectivity of virus in camels, testing should include RT-PCR and systematic virus isolation in cell culture (10). We recently analyzed a small group of camels in Saudi Arabia and found signs of recent acute MERS-CoV infection by demonstrating seroconversion, indicating a method for the serologic diagnosis of acute infection (7). To increase knowledge of acute MERS-CoV in dromedaries, we analyzed acute- and convalescent-phase MERS-CoV infections in similarly sized groups of camels of the same age in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Dr. Wernery, a veterinary microbiologist, is head of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. His main research interest is infectious diseases of livestock, in particular camels, of the Arabian Peninsula.


We thank Monika Eschbach-Bludau, Sebastian Brünink, Tobias Bleicker, and Artem Siemens for excellent technical assistance.
This work was partly supported by the Seed Funding for Theme-Based Research Scheme and Strategic Research Theme Fund, The University of Hong Kong; Research Grant Council Grant, University Grant Council; and Consultancy Service for Enhancing Laboratory Surveillance of Emerging Infectious Disease of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Department of Health. Work in Bonn was funded by the European Commission ANTIGONE (Anticipating the Global Onset of Novel Epidemics) project (contract no. 278976) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant DR 772/7-1 to C.D.).


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Suggested citation for this article: Wernery U, Corman VM, Wong EYM, Tsang AKL, Muth D, Lau SKP, et al. Acute Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection in livestock dromedaries, Dubai, 2014. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Jun [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2106.150038
DOI: 10.3201/eid2106.150038

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