|Credit CDC PHIL|
Although dromedary camels were first identified as a natural host for MERS-CoV in 2013 (see The Lancet Camels Found With Antibodies To MERS-CoV-Like Virus), the search for other animal hosts has continued.
Other than in humans, and some close-but-no-cigar MERS-like coronaviruses found in bats, researchers have come up empty.
At least until now, as we have the following letter published today in the CDC's EID journal, where researchers have detected substantially elevated antibodies to MERS-CoV in Alpacas raised near (but not with) camels in Qatar.
The serum samples from 15 alpacas and 10 camels were tested for IgG antibodies specific to the MERS virus. MERS-CoV–specific antibodies were detected in all of the alpaca samples (n=15) and in all but 1 camel (n=9) tested.
No evidence of current MERS-CoV infection (via RT-PRC testing) was detected among either herd.
Alpacas are part of the same biological family (Camelidae) as dromedaries, so this finding will no doubt raise questions about the susceptibility of other camelids, including Bactrian camels, llamas, vicuñas, and guanacos.
I've only included the opening paragraphs from the letter, so follow the link to read this fascinating new development in MERS reserach in its entirety.
Chantal B.E.M. Reusken1 , Chrispijn Schilp1, V. Stalin Raj, Erwin De Bruin, Robert H.G. Kohl, Elmoubasher A.B.A. Farag, Bart L. Haagmans, Hamad Al-Romaihi, Francois Le Grange, Berend-Jan Bosch, and Marion P.G. Koopmans
To the Editor: Accumulating evidence indicates that dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) are a reservoir for zoonotic transmission of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Although numerous studies have looked at other livestock in the Middle East region, evidence for MERS-CoV infection has only been found in dromedaries (1). Extensive and continuous circulation of MERS-CoV occurs in the Al Shahaniya region of Qatar, most likely because of the presence of an international camel racing track and numerous barns holding camels (2,3).
In April 2015, we investigated the MERS-CoV infection status of 15 healthy alpacas (Vicugna pacos) in a herd of 20 animals and 10 healthy dromedaries in a herd of 25 animals at a farm in this region (Technical Appendix[PDF - 394 KB - 2 pages]).
The herds were located at a distance of ≈200 m from each other within the barn complex and were cared for by the same animal workers, who lived in a common house between the herds at the complex. Both the alpacas and camels were kept as hobby animals.