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Jun 11 2014

An in-depth look at the deadly MERS coronavirus

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:
http://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2014.131

-Ends-

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).
www.nature.com/nmiddleeast

About Nature Publishing Group (NPG)
Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is a publisher of high impact scientific and medical information in print and online. NPG publishes journals, online databases and services across the life, physical, chemical and applied sciences and clinical medicine.

Focusing on the needs of scientists, Nature (founded in 1869) is the leading weekly, international scientific journal. In addition, for this audience, NPG publishes a range of Nature research journals and Nature Reviews journals, plus a range of prestigious academic journals including society-owned publications. Online, nature.com provides over 5 million visitors per month with access to NPG publications and online databases and services, including Nature News and NatureJobs plus access to Nature Network and Nature Education's Scitable.com.

Scientific American is at the heart of Nature Publishing Group's consumer media division, meeting the needs of the general public. Founded in 1845, Scientific American is the oldest continuously published magazine in the US and the leading authoritative publication for science in the general media. Together with scientificamerican.com and 14 local language editions around the world it reaches more than 5 million consumers and scientists. Other titles include Scientific American Mind and Spektrum der Wissenschaft in Germany. For more information, please visit www.scientificamerican.com.

Throughout all its businesses NPG is dedicated to serving the scientific and medical communities and the wider scientifically interested general public. Part of Macmillan Publishers Limited, NPG is a global company with principal offices in London, New York and Tokyo, and offices in cities worldwide including Boston, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Delhi, Dubai, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Heidelberg, Basingstoke, Melbourne, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul and Washington DC. For more information, please go to www.nature.com.

Contact:
Mohammed Yahia
Editor - Nature Middle East
M.Yahia@nature.com
+20 22671 5397/8 ext. 139

William Mahfoud
Communications Manager - Middle East
william.mahfoud@macmillan.com
+971 (0)4 4467376

© Press Release 2014


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