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Understanding the role of camels in the epidemiology of MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) outside the Arabian PeninsulCemeba

Duration Post-doc : 2015-2017

One of the big paradoxes of the MERS-CoV epidemiology is the apparent lack of human cases in large parts Africa where the virus and an animal host, the dromedary camel, are present (1,2,3). Understanding the differences between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (where MERS-CoV is now endemic) would provide crucial understanding on how to reduce zoonotic infection (4). We will set up field protocols for estimating (i) the prevalence of MERS-CoV infection in camel populations and other sensitive species outside Arabian Peninsula, (ii) the ‘at risk’ farming practices that facilitate transmission between camels , (iii) infection variation pattern in both camels and humans. The first project phase consisted in a descriptive serological and virological mapping of MERS-CoV in Africa and central Asia in camel populations (i.e. dromedary and Bactrian).The second project phase consists in a longitudinal epidemiological monitoring (monthly time step) in camel populations from Morocco and Ethiopia (blood, swabs, urine, milk); complemented by a questionnaire based survey of camel owners’ practices. Finally, in parallel a cross-sectional sero-prevalence survey in human, particularly camel owners and animal workers in abattoir, will be conducted by the Institut Pasteur in Morocco. A cross-sectional sero-prevalence survey will be also conducted on bats in abattoirs and ‘oasis’ close to farms in Ethiopia. Addressing these questions is crucial for developing recommendations for animal and human health institutions and countries.IMG_5478


General Objectives: Our main objective is to assess the temporal pattern and the potential risk factors related to human illness caused by MERS-CoV. More precisely, we wish to address the following research questions:

  • IMG_5475What is MERS-CoV transmission dynamics in camel herds in Africa? Are there seasonal patterns of MERS-CoV infection in camel populations?
  • What is the effect of antibody generated from prior infection on re-infection?
  • What is the duration of passively transferred maternal antibody in calves and does this protect calves from re-infection?
  • Genetically and phenotypically characterize MERS-CoV in Morocco and Ethiopia? How does MERS-CoV evolve as it transmits within a camel herd?
  • What is/are the mode(s) of transmission of MERS-CoV from camels to people and the associated risk factor(s)?
  • What is the infection risk in other sensitive species, , including bats and humans?  ?

In order to answer these questions, we have planned:

  • To set up a longitudinal survey (monthly time step) on marked camels (young animals and pregnant female mainly) for observing the serological / virological incidence and reversion trends (if existing) from November 2015 to March 2016 (5 samplings).IMG_5495
  • To set up a longitudinal survey (monthly time step) on identified abattoirs for observing the virus dynamic in a larger area.
  • We will sample blood, swabs as for the pilot phase and will add urine and milk in Morocco survey to better elucidate the potential foodborne route of transmission. Urine and milk specimens will be analyzed in Institut Pasteur Morocco.
  • To set up a cross sectional survey on bat ces-chauves-souris-potentiellement-tueuses_lightbox
    populations living in abattoirs and ‘oasis’ close to farms in Ethiopia to explore the role of these species in the MERS-CoV chain of transmission
  • Furthermore, detailed questionnaires will be undertaken with camel owners; focused on human / animal contacts and animal products consumption.



Partners :

  • Institut Agronomique et  Vétérinaire Hassan 2, Morocco
  • National Veterinary Institute, Ethiopia
  • INERA-CNRST , Burkina Faso
  • LPP ANTIGEN, Kazakhstan

Sponsors :

  • Cirad
  • Hong Kong University , NIH
  • FAO, head quarter Roma
  • Institut Pasteur  France



1. Reusken CB, Messadi L, Feyisa A, Ularamu H, Godeke GJ, Danmarwa A, Dawo F, Jemli M, Melaku S, Shamaki D, Woma Y, Wungak Y, Gebremedhin EZ, Zutt I, Bosch BJ, Haagmans BL, Koopmans MP. Geographic distribution of MERS coronavirus among dromedary camels, Africa. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Aug;20(8):1370-4.

 2: Perera RA, Wang P, Gomaa MR, El-Shesheny R, Kandeil A, Bagato O, Siu LY, Shehata MM, Kayed AS, Moatasim Y, Li M, Poon LL, Guan Y, Webby RJ, Ali MA, Peiris JS, Kayali G. Seroepidemiology for MERS coronavirus using microneutralisation and pseudoparticle virus neutralisation assays reveal a high prevalence of antibody in dromedary camels in Egypt, June 2013. Euro Surveill. 2013 Sep 5;18(36):pii=20574.

 3: Chu DK, Poon LL, Gomaa MM, Shehata MM, Perera RA, Abu Zeid D, El Rifay AS, Siu LY, Guan Y, Webby RJ, Ali MA, Peiris M, Kayali G. MERS coronaviruses in dromedary camels, Egypt. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Jun;20(6):1049-53.

4: Chan RW, Hemida MG, Kayali G, Chu DK, Poon LL, Alnaeem A, Ali MA, Tao KP, Ng HY, Chan MC, Guan Y, Nicholls JM, Peiris JS. Tropism and replication of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus from dromedary camels in the human respiratory tract: an in-vitro and ex-vivo study. Lancet Respir Med. 2014 Aug 28.pii: S2213-2600(14)70158-4. doi: 10.1016/S2213-2600(14)70158-4. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25174549.



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