A severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like disease due to a novel betacoronavirus, human coronavirus EMC (HCoV-EMC), has emerged recently. HCoV-EMC is phylogenetically closely related to Tylonycteris-bat-coronavirus-HKU4 and Pipistrellus-bat-coronavirus-HKU5 in Hong Kong. We conducted a seroprevalence study on archived sera from 94 game-food animal handlers at a wild life market, 28 SARS patients, and 152 healthy blood donors in Southern China to assess the zoonotic potential and evidence for intrusion of HCoV-EMC and related viruses into humans.
Anti-HCoV-EMC and anti-SARS-CoV antibodies were detected using screening indirect immunofluorescence (IF) and confirmatory neutralizing antibody tests.
Two (2.1%) animal handlers had IF antibody titer of ≥1:20 against both HCoV-EMC and SARS-CoV with neutralizing antibody titer of <1:10. No blood donor had antibody against either virus. Surprisingly, 17/28 (60.7%) of SARS patients had significant IF antibody titers with 7/28 (25%) having anti-HCoV-EMC neutralizing antibodies at low titers which significantly correlated with that of HCoV-OC43. Bioinformatics analysis demonstrated a significant B-cell epitope overlapping the heptad repeat-2 region of Spike protein. Virulence of SARS-CoV over other betacoronaviruses may boost cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies against other betacoronaviruses.
Convalescent SARS sera may contain cross-reactive antibodies against other betacoronaviruses and confound seroprevalence study for HCoV-EMC.If I understand them, the researchers seem to be saying that prior exposure to some other coronavirus may make you look as if you've got antibodies to MERS.