Camels, Cattle and Coronavirus: the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Hunt must Continue

Camels, Cattle and Coronavirus


The prevalence of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in animals may only have begun to be appreciated.  The disease is well characterized, but significant zoonotic sources, and thus, routes of transmission of MERS-CoV may yet be identified. In this article, we briefly review the animals that potentially harbour MERS-CoV.

Main Article:

We are still unsure of the full spectrum of animals that harbour Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) variants. Human MERS cases are mostly acquired in healthcare settings. However, one major reservoir of MERS may reside in the livestock that humans are surrounded by on a regular basis.

The most well defined and statistically significant source of animal-borne MERS-CoV originates from rare but direct contact between humans and camels. Contact with cattle is also described as a significant factor, but the virus has yet to be found in cows. In 2013, a single MERS-CoV PCR positive test was reported from a single bat. Distantly related CoVs have since been found in different bats, but none were MERS-CoV variants.

Known MERS-CoV-positive creatures are highlighted above, in red. Other animals that may be considered suspects because their cells support MERS-CoV replication in the laboratory or are known to express the MERS-CoV receptor (DPP4) are also shown. Some of the ways in which humans may acquire a rare MERS-CoV infection are listed underneath each animal.

More information is being uncovered on a daily basis.  Stay tuned for the latest research on MERS and MERS-CoV, and the latest strategies to mitigate the spread.


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Ian M Mackay, PhD
Ian completed undergraduate studies in Medical Laboratory Science at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Between 1992 and 2015 he was a Research Assistant, PhD student, post-doctoral group leader, Chief Investigator and Associate Professor in virology at the Royal Children’s Hospital and The University of Queensland. Ian left research for a Supervising Scientist role detecting viral threats to the public’s health, for Queensland Health. Ian designs, validates and conducts investigations which support clinical and public health need, helping to discover and characterize known, new, newly identified and rare viruses. Apart from several editorial roles, he reviews for journals and granting bodies. He enjoys spending time with his family, cat and writing for his blog and is an avid Star-anything fan.