PLoS One

. 2020 May 26;15(5):e0232790.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0232790. eCollection 2020.
Cross-sectional Prevalence Study of MERS-CoV in Local and Imported Dromedary Camels in Saudi Arabia, 2016-2018

Ahmed M Tolah 1 2 , Saad B Al Masaudi 2 , Sherif A El-Kafrawy 1 3 , Ahmed A Mirza 3 , Steve M Harakeh 1 3 , Ahmed M Hassan 1 , Mohammed A Alsaadi 1 , Abdulrahman A Alzahrani 4 , Ghaleb A Alsaaidi 4 , Nabil M S Amor 5 , Abdulaziz N Alagaili 5 , Anwar M Hashem 6 7 , Esam I Azhar 1 3



The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an endemic virus in dromedaries. Annually, Saudi Arabia imports thousands of camels from the Horn of Africa, yet the epidemiology of MERS-CoV in these animals is largely unknown. Here, MERS-CoV prevalence was compared in imported African camels and their local counterparts. A total of 1399 paired sera and nasal swabs were collected from camels between 2016 and 2018. Imported animals from Sudan (n = 829) and Djibouti (n = 328) were sampled on incoming ships at Jeddah Islamic seaport before unloading, and local camels were sampled from Jeddah (n = 242). Samples were screened for neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) and MERS-CoV viral RNA. The overall seroprevalence was 92.7% and RNA detection rate was 17.2%. Imported camels had higher seroprevalence compared to resident herds (93.8% vs 87.6%, p <0.01) in contrast to RNA detection (13.3% vs 35.5%, p <0.0001). Seroprevalence significantly increased with age (p<0.0001) and viral RNA detection rate was ~2-folds higher in camels <2-year-old compared to older animals. RNA detection was higher in males verses females (24.3% vs 12.6%, p<0.0001) but seroprevalence was similar. Concurrent positivity for viral RNA and nAbs was found in >87% of the RNA positive animals, increased with age and was sex-dependent. Importantly, reduced viral RNA load was positively correlated with nAb titers. Our data confirm the widespread of MERS-CoV in imported and domestic camels in Saudi Arabia and highlight the need for continuous active surveillance and better prevention measures. Further studies are also warranted to understand camels correlates of protection for proper vaccine development.