Co-circulation of three camel coronavirus species and recombination of MERS-CoVs in Saudi Arabia

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Science  01 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6268, pp. 81-84
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac8608

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Coronaviruses in the Middle East

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) causes severe acute respiratory illness and kills about a third of people infected. The virus is common in dromedary camels, which can be a source of human infections. In a survey for MERSCoV in over 1300 Saudi Arabian camels, Sabir et al. found that dromedaries share three coronavirus species with humans. Diverse MERS lineages in camels have caused human infections, which suggests that transfer among host species occurs quite easily. Haagmans et al. made a MERS-CoV vaccine for use in camels, using poxvirus as a vehicle. The vaccine significantly reduced virus excretion, which should help reduce the potential for transmission to humans, and conferred cross-immunity to camelpox infections.

Science, this issue p. 81, p. 77


Outbreaks of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) raise questions about the prevalence and evolution of the MERS coronavirus (CoV) in its animal reservoir. Our surveillance in Saudi Arabia in 2014 and 2015 showed that viruses of the MERS-CoV species and a human CoV 229E–related lineage co-circulated at high prevalence, with frequent co-infections in the upper respiratory tract of dromedary camels. viruses of the betacoronavirus 1 species, we found that dromedary camels share three CoV species with humans. Several MERS-CoV lineages were present in camels, including a recombinant lineage that has been dominant since December 2014 and that subsequently led to the human outbreaks in 2015. Camels therefore serve as an important reservoir for the maintenance and diversification of the MERS-CoVs and are the source of human infections with this virus.

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