MERS Virus

MERS virus in camel cellA few days ago, I posted a picture of a bunch of MERS viruses–more specifically known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)–attacking a monkey cell. Here’s a similar picture from the current Science News of MERS viruses attacking a cluster of camel cells. To my untrained eyes, it looks like a much lighter infection.

When I posted the previous picture, I mentioned that South Korea had closed schools and canceled public events to stop the outbreak there from becoming a pandemic. At that time, 30 people were known to be infected including one who had travelled to China. 1,369 people were under quarantine in South Korea.

As of July 27, there have been 186 known infections between South Korea and China, and 36 patients have died.

This is another viral disease, like ebola and AIDS and flu and colds. Like the other viral diseases, it does not respond to antibiotics. There is no known cure for it and no vaccine to prevent it. It apparently travels through the air on tiny droplets of spittle when somebody coughs or sneezes, the same way flu and cold viruses do.

All that currently can be done for patients is to treat the symptoms and hope their immune systems eventually defeat the infections. It works in about 60% to 70% of patients. The other 30% to 40% die.

In May of this year, two healthcare workers arrived in the United States from different cities in Saudi Arabia. Both had travelled through England. Within days after arrival in the US, they were both sick with MERS, apparently having been infected in Saudi Arabia. Both were hospitalized and treated and released a few days later. No other cases of MERS have been found in the United States….yet.

The good news now is that a protein has been found in the blood of a recovered patient that seems to latch onto the virus and prevent it from infecting cells. In mice, it has dramatically reduced infection in as little as three days. It will take time, but this protein may become the basis for a vaccine to prevent the disease or a treatment for people who get it. Maybe both.

But the pharmaceutical industry works slowly, as it must. Development and testing take a long time. Such a vaccine or drug will not become available in time to help with this current outbreak.

A free 2-page information sheet about MERS is available from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention here.

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