Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, more commonly abbreviated as MERS is a human disease caused by a type of virus called coronavirus. This disease causes an assortment of respiratory ailments, including shortness of breath, coughing and pneumonia. Along with these symptoms the virus can cause a high grade fever, which to some people can be deadly. About half of the people infected with MERS die from respiratory complications. Although the disease is believed to have originated in the Middle East it is rather widespread, affecting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Tunisia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. The virus is closely related to SARS, which in the early 2000's caused a deadly outbreak in Asia, infecting thousands and killing hundreds.
Recently, scientists have been able to identify a previously unknown source of this disease, camels. Before this study it had not been known whether humans could contract the disease from animals. This study confirmed that several camels were actively infected with the virus, and that the genetic make up of their version of the virus was very similar, though not identical, to the virus in some infected humans. Maybe even more interestingly though is the fact that only young camels had the actual virus present in their systems. Older camels were much more likely to have antibodies built up against the virus, indicating that the disease is older than previously known.
This study brings up a lot of very relevant questions, one being if the virus has existed in camels for decades why did it take so long to infect humans? The first human cases weren't reported until 2012. The best answer is that the virus hadn't mutated to be able to cross species until recently. Many viruses are specific to their host, which prevents trans-species infections. When a virus develops the ability to cross species it becomes much more dangerous. An example of this we have all heard of is the bird flu. The virus infects birds readily, and jumping from birds to humans cause a world wide health scare recently. So since MERS is a trans species virus should there be a global concern over it? I would say there needs to be more research into the mechanism of transmission of this virus. In some regions which the study observed up to 90% of the camels were or had been infected. These high numbers should be very concerning, and now that his study is available to the public I hope that more awareness is raised.
Posted by Tim Daly (2)