An increase in the number of MERS cases in Saudi Arabia has prompted a team of UN experts to visit the country in search of answers. The team, consisting of human and animal health experts, hopes to understand why the country is experiencing the highest number of monthly cases of MERS since the virus emerged in 2012.
Thus far, MERS it believed to have infected close to 1000 people, approximately 360 of which have died. The coronavirus causes coughing, fever, and additional complications like pneumonia and renal failure.
Research efforts aimed at drug and vaccine development have targeted DPP4, a cell-surface enzyme involved in immune modulation, cell signaling, and apoptosis that the virus exploits for cell entry. According to recent publications, targeting DPP4 could also help downregulate the negative consequences of the immune response generated by DPP4, including excess inflammatory cytokine signaling and T-cell proliferation.
The international community has responded warily to MERS, with health officials concerned about international spread. Interestingly, the World Health Organization has openly criticized Saudi Arabian officials for failing to investigate and control the spread of the disease.
In the past, MERS infection has been associated with camels, but a number of cases have occurred in patients with no known contact with camels. According to the CDC, MERS infections from person-to-person contact have been documented, especially in persons caring for infected individuals. Consequently, a number of MERS infections have been associated with nosocomial transmission.
No effective vaccines or pharmaceuticals have yet been licensed against MERS-CoV. but perhaps the efforts spearheaded by the UN team will uncover information that improves our ability to combat the virus.