Deadly MERS Virus Genome Suggests Complex Transmission

Deadly MERS virus has genome probed to show transmission

A recent study has sought to perform genomic sequencing of the virus responsible for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Preliminary data suggests transmission of the pathogen is more advanced than scientists initially suspected.

What is the MERS Virus?

The MERS virus is caused by a coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and was initially reported back in 2012. Unfortunately, information concerning the MERS is relatively limited, although a number of high-profile research endeavors are currently ongoing.

The virus has, however, been taxonomically verified, and belongs to the same family of viruses as that responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which spread throughout Asia between 2002 and 2003.

MERS incidence and death for Sep 20

CDC data, showing the death toll, and number of people infected, following the MERS outbreak

As of Sep. 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report a total of 130 cases of infections, with 58 deaths, principally within Saudi Arabia.

MERS-CoV causes severe acute respiratory illness, alongside the following characteristic signs and symptoms:

  • Pneumonia
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath (SOB)
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Renal failure

The Study

The research group published the findings of their study in the journal Lancet, providing the most comprehensive number of MERS-CoV genomes, thus far, and suggests a number of human “transmission chains” to be associated with the elusive virus.

Researchers working for the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute wanted to acquire an accurate interpretation of how the virus had potentially mutated over time. Samples were extracted from a total of 21 infected patients from across the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. The team explored variations in the genetic sequences of the MERS-CoV viruses, between each of the patient samples, and matched them to the geographic location and time of infection; essentially, this provided the scientists with a timeline, showing the progressive changes in the genomic sequence of MERS-CoV.

Dr. Matthew Cotton, of the Sanger Institute, who was the study’s lead author, explained how he and his colleagues deep-sequenced the collected viral samples to determine its “rate of evolution.”

Based upon their findings, the scientists suggest that disease spread cannot involve simple human to human transmission in isolation. Rather, they posit that human beings may be a part of dynamic infection chain, with the virus jumping from one species of animal to another, mutating as it does so. The team base this assumption on the highly divergent genomic sequences of the MERS viruses investigated in their 21 patient samples.

Cotton explains why the virus cannot be restricted to human beings:

“The genome differences we discovered in some infected people were too great to be explained by replication errors occurring in the virus as it is passed from human to human during a single chain of infection.”

Other Potential MERS-CoV Reservoirs

Previous studies have correlated the spread of MERS-CoV to a number of different animals. Ziad Memish and colleagues published a paper in the journal Emerging Infectious Disease, entitled Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus in Bats, Saudi Arabia.

The team traced the first MERS case back to Bisha, in the southwest province of ‘Asir in Saudi Arabia, and began combing the area for bats. The team used polymerase chain reaction to confirm the presence of MERS-CoV in their collected samples, and formed a tentative relationship between bat and human transmission.

Camels could be involved in MERS virus spreadMeanwhile, camels have also be highlighted as a potential reservoir of the virus. In the Eurosurveillance, researchers published their findings on the seroepidemiological studies of dromedary camels. Interestingly, they identified antibodies that showed high affinity for MERS-CoV, showing the beasts’ immune systems were primed against the deadly virus and, therefore, had encountered it beforehand.

Thus far, no single treatment has been identified or developed, although one research group has demonstrated limited success using a cocktail of anti-viral drugs, including ribavirin and interferon alpha 2b. Around 50% of those infected, who have not undergone any experimental treatment, have died.

With regards to the future, Cotton identifies the need to carry out further genomic studies, into the deadly MERS virus, in those patients most recently affected. Professor Ziad Memish, the Deputy Minister of Health in Riyadh, suggests that uncovering the complexities of disease transmission is key to “… reducing the risk of transmission, defining the epidemiology and developing effective control measures.

By: James Fenner

LV Guardian Express Link1

LV Guardian Express Link2

CDC Link

Press Release Link

Lancet Journal Link

Eurosurveillance Journal Link

Emerging Infectious Disease Journal Link

We will read your comment immediately so leave a remark!

RSS Guardian Express

  • Autism and the Challenges of Easter April 18, 2014
    For most families living with an autistic loved one, everyday holds certain demands. Holidays, like Easter, provide even further challenges for those with autism. The traditions most people take for granted must be approached from a unique perspective. Zack, who is 11 years old, is moderate to high-functoning on the Autism Spectrum. He loves the […]
    Stacy Lamy
  • Peaches Geldof Funeral Arrangements Shared April 18, 2014
    The funeral arrangements for Peaches Geldof have been shared by her family. It will be a private funeral on Easter Monday (April 21), and will be held in the same church as her mother’s funeral. St. Mary Magdalene and St. Lawrence Church in Davington is also the same church that the 25-year-old socialite married and […]
    Alexandria Ingham
  • Game of Thrones Spoilers Ruining the Experience? April 18, 2014
    Sharing spoilers of Game of Thrones is ruining the experience for some people. They do not want to know what happens in the episodes before they get a chance to see it themselves. The issue reached its peak so far this week after many publications started sharing the events of the “Purple Wedding” just after […]
    Alexandria Ingham
  • Game of Thrones Spoilers Lead to Arguments Online April 18, 2014
    The internet has been surrounded with Game of Thrones spoilers this week that include the death of a certain character, and it has led to arguments online. Many people who have not read the books or seen the episode yet have gotten annoyed at publications for sharing the details of the character’s death, and even […]
    Alexandria Ingham
  • Miley Cyrus Hits Out at Hospital Rumors April 18, 2014
    Miley Cyrus has hit out at rumors suggesting her recent trip to hospital was due to her partying ways. A number of publications decided to jump on the idea that the 21-year-old was out partying in a way to get over the recent death of her dog, Floyd. In a statement, which she linked to […]
    Alexandria Ingham

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 626 other subscribers

Quantcast