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MERS-CoV in Upper Respiratory Tract and Lungs of Dromedary Camels, Saudi Arabia, 2013–2014 - Volume 21, Number 7—July 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

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MERS-CoV in Upper Respiratory Tract and Lungs of Dromedary Camels, Saudi Arabia, 2013–2014 - Volume 21, Number 7—July 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

Volume 21, Number 7—July 2015


MERS-CoV in Upper Respiratory Tract and Lungs of Dromedary Camels, Saudi Arabia, 2013–2014

Abdelmalik I. Khalafalla, Xiaoyan Lu, Abdullah I.A. Al-Mubarak, Abdul Hafeed S. Dalab, Khalid A.S. Al-Busadah, and Dean D. ErdmanComments to Author 
Author affiliations: King Faisal University, Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia (A.I. Khalafalla, A.I.A. Al-Mubarak, A.H.S. Dalab, K.A.S. Al-Busada)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (X. Lu, D.D. Erdman)


To assess the temporal dynamics of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection in dromedary camels, specimens were collected at 1–2 month intervals from 2 independent groups of animals during April 2013–May 2014 in Al-Ahsa Province, Saudi Arabia, and tested for MERS-CoV RNA by reverse transcription PCR. Of 96 live camels, 28 (29.2%) nasal swab samples were positive; of 91 camel carcasses, 56 (61.5%) lung tissue samples were positive. Positive samples were more commonly found among young animals (<4 years of age) than adults (>4 years of age). The proportions of positive samples varied by month for both groups; detection peaked during November 2013 and January 2014 and declined in March and May 2014. These findings further our understanding of MERS-CoV infection in dromedary camels and may help inform intervention strategies to reduce zoonotic infections.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an emerging pathogen associated with severe respiratory symptoms and renal failure in infected persons (1,2). Saudi Arabia is the country most severely affected by the virus and is where the first recognized case was identified in 2012. The origin of MERS-CoV remains a mystery. Bats seem to be the reservoir host of the virus (3) but are probably not the source of the ongoing MERS-CoV outbreak because of limited contact with humans in the Arabian Peninsula. Early observations that some MERS-CoV–infected persons had been exposed to camels suggested a possible role of these animals as intermediate reservoir hosts (2,4). Serologic surveys subsequently conducted in several countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa identified high rates of MERS-CoV–specific antibodies in dromedary camels (512). Furthermore, MERS-CoV infection in dromedary camels was definitively proven by the detection of virus and virus sequences in respiratory specimens, feces, and milk collected from camels in Qatar (9,13), Oman (14), Saudi Arabia (5,15,16), and Egypt (17).
The few published studies that looked for MERS-CoV in the respiratory tract of naturally infected dromedary camels examined nasal or ocular swab samples but not samples from the lower respiratory tract. Moreover, several studies relied on only a few specimens or collected specimens at only 1 time point (9,1315). To address these limitations and to clarify the dynamics of MERS-CoV infection in these animals, we conducted a year-round study in which we collected a large number of specimens from the upper respiratory tracts of live dromedary camels and from the lungs of dromedary camel carcasses.
Dr. Khalafalla is professor of veterinary virology at King Faisal University, Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. His research focus is on viral diseases of dromedary camels.


We thank Isam Al Jalii and Khalid Borsais for assistance with sample collection and Marzooq M. Al Eknah for financial support.


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Suggested citation for this article: Khalafalla AI, Lu X, Al-Mubarak AIA, Dalab AHS, Al-Busadah KAS, Erdman DD. MERS-CoV in upper respiratory tract and lungs of dromedary camels, Saudi Arabia, 2013–2014. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Jul [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2107.150070
DOI: 10.3201/eid2107.150070

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