Outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus in Camels and Probable Spillover Infection to Humans in Kenya

Viruses. 2022 Aug 9;14(8):1743. doi: 10.3390/v14081743.


The majority of Kenya’s > 3 million camels have antibodies against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), although human infection in Africa is rare. We enrolled 243 camels aged 0−24 months from 33 homesteads in Northern Kenya and followed them between April 2018 to March 2020. We collected and tested camel nasal swabs for MERS-CoV RNA by RT-PCR followed by virus isolation and whole genome sequencing of positive samples. We also documented illnesses (respiratory or other) among the camels. Human camel handlers were also swabbed, screened for respiratory signs, and samples were tested for MERS-CoV by RT-PCR. We recorded 68 illnesses among 58 camels, of which 76.5% (52/68) were respiratory signs and the majority of illnesses (73.5% or 50/68) were recorded in 2019. Overall, 124/4692 (2.6%) camel swabs collected from 83 (34.2%) calves in 15 (45.5%) homesteads between April−September 2019 screened positive, while 22 calves (26.5%) recorded reinfections (second positive swab following ≥ 2 consecutive negative tests). Sequencing revealed a distinct Clade C2 virus that lacked the signature ORF4b deletions of other Clade C viruses. Three previously reported human PCR positive cases clustered with the camel infections in time and place, strongly suggesting sporadic transmission to humans during intense camel outbreaks in Northern Kenya.

Keywords: Horn of Africa; MERS-CoV epidemiology; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus; spillover events; zoonosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Camelus
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / veterinary
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Kenya / epidemiology
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus*
  • Zoonoses


  • Antibodies, Viral