11 June, 2014

An in-depth look at the deadly MERS coronavirus

11 June 2014
A sudden rise in the cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which first appeared in Saudi Arabia two years ago, is now causing concern across the rest of the world. The number of cases has doubled in just one month, and around 30% of those infected by the virus have died.

This week, Nature Middle East released a comprehensive and in-depth Special on the emerging virus, exploring how the novel coronavirus was first discovered in a small laboratory in Saudi Arabia, to efforts to contain the spread of the virus and how likely it is to become an epidemic.

"With no vaccines or antivirals, reminiscent of the SARS tragedy, there is a growing fear of a new viral pandemic," says Islam Hussein, a researcher and virologist at MIT, Massachusetts.

The virus' transmission modes and its degree of adaptability remain largely mysterious, but its potential to kill is certain - with 193 deaths reported worldwide, the majority over a few months. A Nature Middle East exclusive infograph shows the extent of the viral contagion and reach, comparing its high fatality record with those of H1N1 and SARS.

Since it was first identified in a small laboratory attached to a private hospital in Jeddah, the virus has spread to almost every continent across the globe.

Professionals in the region have played down the likelihood of an imminent danger of a MERS epidemic even in countries, like Egypt, with a poor history of viral control. However the region is still vulnerable, especially with the Hajj and Ummrah seasons approaching, when millions from around the world head to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage.

"Educating pilgrims to Mecca about the disease seems to be the only current viable option. Exercising caution, good personal hygiene and wearing masks are all constructive measures," adds Islam, who suggests that thermal scanners at airports would not be an effective measure to curb the spread of the disease.

Researchers are scrambling for an antiviral that can control the coronavirus, hoping to have a line of defence should it mutate to become more dangerous. While they have identified several antibodies and a molecule that can kill the coronavirus, producing a vaccine is a long and expensive process.

According to Keiji Fukuda, assistant director general for health security at WHO, if MERS is associated with a particular animal and research confirms that the virus is mostly transmitted from animal to human, then it will remain regional. "But if transmission between people increases, the virus could present a global risk," he says.

For more information and to read the full coverage on "Nature Middle East" website:


About Nature Middle East
Nature Middle Eastis a comprehensive web portal for information on scientific and medical research in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, along with news on the research community and its activities. It provides readers with the latest science news, features and commentaries and highlights ground-breaking research from the region. The portal caters to a wide audience, from students to post-doctoral fellows to principal investigators, along with a general public interested in science. All the articles produced are freely available and offered in English and Arabic, to cater for the needs of a wide audience interested in this region of the world and to allow readers to engage with science in their native tongue and to inform the global audience on all the scientific advances of the Arab world. Nature Middle East is fully sponsored by the King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC).

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© Press Release 2014