Friday, August 9, 2013

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus neutralising serum antibodies in dromedary camels: a comparative serological study

The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Early Online Publication, 9 August 2013
doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70164-6Cite or Link Using DOI



A new betacoronavirus—Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)—has been identified in patients with severe acute respiratory infection. Although related viruses infect bats, molecular clock analyses have been unable to identify direct ancestors of MERS-CoV. Anecdotal exposure histories suggest that patients had been in contact with dromedary camels or goats. We investigated possible animal reservoirs of MERS-CoV by assessing specific serum antibodies in livestock.


We took sera from animals in the Middle East (Oman) and from elsewhere (Spain, Netherlands, Chile). Cattle (n=80), sheep (n=40), goats (n=40), dromedary camels (n=155), and various other camelid species (n=34) were tested for specific serum IgG by protein microarray using the receptor-binding S1 subunits of spike proteins of MERS-CoV, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and human coronavirus OC43. Results were confirmed by virus neutralisation tests for MERS-CoV and bovine coronavirus.


50 of 50 (100%) sera from Omani camels and 15 of 105 (14%) from Spanish camels had protein-specific antibodies against MERS-CoV spike. Sera from European sheep, goats, cattle, and other camelids had no such antibodies. MERS-CoV neutralising antibody titres varied between 1/320 and 1/2560 for the Omani camel sera and between 1/20 and 1/320 for the Spanish camel sera. There was no evidence for cross-neutralisation by bovine coronavirus antibodies.


MERS-CoV or a related virus has infected camel populations. Both titres and seroprevalences in sera from different locations in Oman suggest widespread infection.


European Union, European Centre For Disease Prevention and Control, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
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