Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Experimental Evidence Suggests Camels are the Reservoir for MERS

If you have travelled in the past six months and stood in the security line of a main airport, chances are that you saw a sign warning against Middle East Respiratory Symptom (MERS).  MERS is a viral disease caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV.  Most individuals that become infected will experience fever, cough, and shortness of breath before developing a severe respiratory illness if interventions or treatment are not provided.  About 30% of people who are infected will die.  MERS first came onto the global health scene when the cases were identified in Saudi Arabia in the spring of 2012 by the country’s Ministry of Health.  Cases were later reported in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen.  In May of 2012, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed two cases, in Indiana and Florida, from healthcare workers who had been in Saudi Arabia. Health officials were initially worried for several reasons.  Firstly, there were
several aspects of the virus that were unknown including but not limited to transmission, associated illnesses, and origin.  Secondly, there was also a major concern about the annual pilgrimage and how it would influence the spread and transmission of the virus.  But it is September of 2014, and about 2 years have passed since the first cases of MERS were confirmed.  So why is this news hot and new?

One important question that all viruses must answer is: what is the host or the reservoir of the virus?  In virology the reservoir is the animal that carries a particular virus without suffering from any illnesses or symptoms.  A possible reservoir of MERS-CoV is the dromedary camel.  The camel was the first suspect because large numbers of camels in the Middle East have tested positive for the virus.  In spite of these findings there has never been strong evidence to say that the camel is the one and only reservoir or host of this virus until recently.  A study published in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Disease in 2014 has provided experimental evidence supporting this theory.  In short infected camels can shed large amounts of the virus via nasal secretions from their upper respiratory tract. Researchers theorize that by vaccinating camels, you can substantially reduce the risk of transmission to camels and other people.  Unfortunately there is no vaccine to protect against MERS, but with this new information the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has increased its research to develop possible vaccines for both camels and humans. 

-Nalani Wakinekona




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