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David Plaut: Off the Cuff

Middle East Repiratory Syndrome

Published June 11, 2014 9:56 AM by David Plaut

Middle East Repiratory Syndrome (MERS) recently was said to be a "public health emergency of international concern." The MERS virus, which appeared in the Middle East in 2012, has spread through that area; cases have been found in Asia, Europe and the United States. The mortality rate is near 30%.

Two health workers at a hospital in Orlando, Fla., who were exposed to a patient with MERS exhibited flu-like symptoms, and one was hospitalized. 

MERS, which causes coughing, fever and occasionally fatal pneumonia, is a virus from the same family as SARS, which has killed about 800 people worldwide since it first appeared in China in 2002. 

MERS, a second coronavirus, SARS being the first, is transmissible from person to person, and its close relationship with several bat coronaviruses suggests that these animals may be the ultimate source of the infection. However, many key issues need to be addressed, including identification of the proximate, presumably zoonotic, source of the infection, the prevalence of the infection in human populations, details regarding clinical and pathological features of the human infection, the establishment of a small rodent model for the infection, and the virological and immune basis for the severe disease observed in most patients. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, has called MERS-CoV "a threat to the entire world." There is no vaccine for MERS.

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posted by David Plaut
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