Background: An outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Jordan in 2015 involved a variant virus that acquired distinctive deletions in the accessory open reading frames. We conducted a molecular and seroepidemiologic investigation to describe the deletion variant's transmission patterns and epidemiology.
Methods: We reviewed epidemiologic and medical chart data and analyzed viral genome sequences from respiratory specimens of MERS-CoV cases. In early 2016, sera and standardized interviews were obtained from MERS-CoV cases and their contacts. Sera were evaluated by nucleocapsid and spike protein enzyme immunoassays and microneutralization.
Results: Among 16 cases, 11 (69%) had health care exposure and 5 (31%) were relatives of a known case; 13 (81%) were symptomatic, and 7 (44%) died. Genome sequencing of MERS-CoV from 13 cases revealed 3 transmissible deletions associated with clinical illness during the outbreak. Deletion variant sequences were epidemiologically clustered and linked to a common transmission chain. Interviews and sera were collected from 2 surviving cases, 23 household contacts, and 278 health care contacts; 1 (50%) case, 2 (9%) household contacts, and 3 (1%) health care contacts tested seropositive.
Conclusions: The MERS-CoV deletion variants retained human-to-human transmissibility and caused clinical illness in infected persons despite accumulated mutations. Serology suggested limited transmission beyond that detected during the initial outbreak investigation.
Keywords: Jordan; MERS-CoV; Middle East respiratory syndrome; coronavirus; emerging infectious disease; genome deletion; outbreak investigation; sero-epidemiology.