Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Antibodies in Bactrian and Hybrid Camels from Dubai

So far, dromedary camels are the only known animal reservoir for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Previous published serological studies showed that sera of Bactrian camels were all negative for MERS-CoV antibodies. However, a recent study revealed that direct inoculation of Bactrian camels intranasally with MERS-CoV can lead to infection with abundant virus shedding and seroconversion. In this study, we examined the presence of MERS-CoV antibodies in Bactrian and hybrid camels in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (where dromedaries are also present), and Bactrian camels in Xinjiang, China (where dromedaries are absent).

For the 29 serum samples from Bactrian camels in Dubai tested by the MERS-CoV spike (S) protein-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (S-ELISA) and neutralization antibody test, 14 (48%) and 12 (41%), respectively, were positive for MERS-CoV antibodies. All the 12 serum samples that were positive with the neutralization antibody test were also positive for the S-ELISA. For the 11 sera from hybrid camels in Dubai tested with the S-ELISA and neutralization antibody test, 6 (55%) and 9 (82%), respectively, were positive for MERS-CoV antibodies. All the 6 serum samples that were positive for the S-ELISA were also positive with the neutralization antibody test. There was a strong correlation between the antibody levels detected by S-ELISA and neutralizing antibody titers, with a Spearman coefficient of 0.6262 (P < 0.0001; 95% confidence interval, 0.5062 to 0.7225). All 92 Bactrian camel serum samples from Xinjiang were negative for MERS-CoV antibodies tested using both S-ELISA and the neutralization antibody test. Bactrian and hybrid camels are potential sources of MERS-CoV infection.

Since its first appearance in 2012, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has affected >25 countries, with >2,400 cases and an extremely high fatality rate of >30%. The total number of mortalities due to MERS is already greater than that due to severe acute respiratory syndrome. MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has been confirmed to be the etiological agent. So far, dromedaries are the only known animal reservoir for MERS-CoV. Previously published serological studies showed that sera of Bactrian camels were all negative for MERS-CoV antibodies. In this study, we observed that 41% of the Bactrian camel sera and 55% of the hybrid camel sera from Dubai (where dromedaries are also present), but none of the sera from Bactrian camels in Xinjiang (where dromedaries are absent), were positive for MERS-CoV antibodies. Based on these results, we conclude that in addition to dromedaries, Bactrian and hybrid camels are also potential sources of MERS-CoV infection.