Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a cause of severe respiratory infection in humans, specifically the elderly and people with comorbidities. The re-emergence of lethal coronaviruses calls for international collaboration to produce coronavirus vaccines, which are still lacking to date. Ongoing efforts to develop MERS-CoV vaccines should consider the different target populations (dromedary camels and humans) and the correlates of protection. Extending on our current knowledge of MERS, vaccination of dromedary camels to induce mucosal immunity could be a promising approach to diminish MERS-CoV transmission to humans. In addition, it is equally important to develop vaccines for humans that induce broader reactivity against various coronaviruses to be prepared for a potential next CoV outbreak.
Dromedary camels from Africa and Arabia are an established source for zoonotic Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection among humans. In Pakistan, we found specific neutralizing antibodies in samples from 39.5% of 565 dromedaries, documenting significant expansion of the enzootic range of MERS-CoV to Asia.
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) cases continue to be reported, predominantly in Saudi Arabia and occasionally other countries. Although dromedaries are the main reservoir, other animal species might be susceptible to MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection and potentially serve as reservoirs. To determine whether other animals are potential reservoirs, we inoculated MERS-CoV into llamas, pigs, sheep, and horses and collected nasal and rectal swab samples at various times. The presence of MERS-CoV in the nose of pigs and llamas was confirmed by PCR, titration of infectious virus, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization; seroconversion was detected in animals of both species. Conversely, in sheep and horses, virus-specific antibodies did not develop and no evidence of viral replication in the upper respiratory tract was found. These results prove the susceptibility of llamas and pigs to MERS-CoV infection. Thus, the possibility of MERS-CoV circulation in animals other than dromedaries, such as llamas and pigs, is not negligible.