Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
What is it?
MERS-CoV is the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). It is a coronavirus, part of the same family of viruses that causes the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). MERS is a zoonotic disease, meaning it passes from animals to humans. It’s thought that camels are a major source of infection in people (known as primary cases). Raising camels, eating undercooked camel meat, and drinking raw camel milk or urine are risk factors for the disease in humans. MERS-CoV can also spread from person to person, usually through close contact (known as secondary cases).
Where does it occur?
The disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and most reported cases have been linked to countries in and around the Arabian Peninsula.
According to WHO, since 2012 until 31 May 2020, the total number of laboratory-confirmed MERS-CoV infection cases reported globally is 2562 with 881 associated deaths.
The majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia.
In 2015, a large outbreak occurred in South Korea as a result of a single super-spreading event, transmitting the virus to 82 people in three days.
Since 2012, cases have been reported in 27 countries. 12 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region have reported cases.
Who does it affect?
MERS-CoV can infect people of any age. It causes a severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Gastrointestinal symptoms can also occur. Around 35-37% of people reported as having MERS have died, many of whom already had an underlying medical condition.
The age group 50–59 years continues to be at highest risk for acquiring infection of primary cases. The age group 30–39 years is most at risk for secondary cases. The number of deaths is higher in the age group 50-59 years for primary cases and 70-79 years for secondary cases.
How do we currently prevent infections?
People are advised to try and prevent getting infected by avoiding undercooked or raw camel products, and by being hygienic, especially around animals.
There is currently no specific antiviral treatment for or vaccine against MERS-CoV.
How is CEPI supporting MERS vaccine R&D?
CEPI has 5 MERS vaccine candidates in its portfolio – Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Themis Bioscience, Janssen Vaccines & University of Oxford, IDT Biologika and the University of Queensland.
With partnerships initiated to advance development of MERS vaccine candidates, CEPI was able to use this knowledge of another coronavirus and act quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2020, the MERS antibody reference standard – which works as a comparator so that you can assess whether a MERS vaccine candidate induces a ‘good’ immune response – developed with CEPI funding by IVI, was approved by the WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization (ECBS).