Antibodies against MERS Coronavirus in Dromedaries, United Arab Emirates, 2003 and 2013
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Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has caused an ongoing outbreak of severe acute respiratory tract infection in humans in the Arabian Peninsula since 2012. Dromedaries have been implicated as possible viral reservoirs. We used serologic assays to analyze 651 dromedary serum samples from the United Arab Emirates; 151 of 651 samples were obtained in 2003, well before onset of the current epidemic, and 500 serum samples were obtained in 2013. Recombinant spike protein specific immunofluorescence and virus neutralization tests enabled clear discrimination between MERS-CoV and bovine CoV infections. Most (632/651, 97.1%) dromedaries had antibodies against MERS-CoV. This result included all 151 serum samples obtained in 2003. Most (389/651, 59.8%) serum samples had MERS-CoV neutralizing antibody titers >1,280. Dromedaries from the United Arab Emirates were infected at high rates with MERS-CoV or a closely related, probably conspecific, virus long before the first human MERS cases.