Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection in camelids
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is the cause of a severe respiratory disease with a high case fatality rate in humans. Since its emergence in mid-2012, 2578 laboratory-confirmed cases in 27 countries have been reported by the World Health Organization, leading to 888 known deaths due to the disease and related complications. Dromedary camels are considered the major reservoir host for this virus leading to zoonotic infection in humans. Dromedary camels, llamas, and alpacas are susceptible to MERS-CoV, developing a mild-to-moderate upper respiratory tract infection characterized by epithelial hyperplasia as well as infiltration of neutrophils, lymphocytes, and some macrophages within epithelium, lamina propria, in association with abundant viral antigen. The very mild lesions in the lower respiratory tract of these camelids correlate with absence of overt illness following MERS-CoV infection. Unfortunately, there is no approved antiviral treatment or vaccine for MERS-CoV infection in humans. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop intervention strategies in camelids, such as vaccination, to minimize virus spillover to humans. Therefore, the development of camelid models of MERS-CoV infection is key not only to assess vaccine prototypes but also to understand the biologic mechanisms by which the infection can be naturally controlled in these reservoir species. This review summarizes information on virus-induced pathological changes, pathogenesis, viral epidemiology, and control strategies in camelids, as the intermediate hosts and primary source of MERS-CoV infection in humans.