MERS-CoV Found in Hyalomma dromedarii Ticks Attached to Dromedary Camels at a Livestock Market, United Arab Emirates, 2019
Tayoun, Ahmad Abou
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Abstract: The main mode of transmission of Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) between dromedaries is likely via the respiratory route. However, there must be other modes to explain how the infection is brought to MERS-CoV-negative closed herds, such as transmission by ticks. Here, we present a study performed at three different locations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) involving 215 dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) and the ticks attached to them. We tested the camels and ticks via RT-(q)PCR for the presence of MERS-CoV nucleic acids, as well as flaviviruses that may be present in the region (e.g., Alkhumra hemorrhagic fever virus). Camel sera were additionally analyzed for evidence of previous exposure to MERS-CoV. In total, 8 out of 242 tick pools were positive for MERS-CoV RNA (3.3%; Ct 34.6–38.3), 7 of which contained Hyalomma dromedarii ticks, and one contained a Hyalomma sp. tick (species not identified). All of the virus-positive ticks’ host camels were also positive for MERS-CoV RNA in their nasal swab samples. Short sequences established in the N gene region from two positive tick pools were identical to viral sequences from their hosts’ nasal swabs. In total, 59.3% of dromedaries at the livestock market had MERS-CoV RNA in their nasal swabs (Ct 17.7–39.5). While dromedaries at all locations were negative for MERS-CoV RNA in their serum samples, antibodies were detected in 95.2% and 98.7% of them (tested by ELISA and indirect immunofluorescence test, respectively). Given the probably transient and/or low level of MERS-CoV viremia in dromedaries and the rather high Ct values observed in the ticks, it seems unlikely that Hyalomma dromedarii is a competent vector for MERS-CoV; however, its role in mechanical or fomite transmission between camels should be investigated.