Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
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. Raising camels, eating undercooked camel meat, and drinking raw camel milk or urine are risk factors for the disease in humans. MERS-CoV can spread from person to person, usually through close contact.
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, from 2012 through to the end of April 2019, the total global number of laboratory-confirmed MERS cases reported to WHO is 2428, with 838 associated deaths, (case–fatality rate: 34.5%) were reported globally. The majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia (2037 cases, including 760 related deaths).
In 2015, a large outbreak occurred in South Korea, following a single “super-spreader” transmitting the virus to 82 people in three days.
From January to March 2019, there were 61 reported MERS cases in the city of Wadi Aldwasir, Saudi Arabia. Investigations into the source of infection of the 61 cases found that 37 were health-care acquired infections, 14 were primary cases presumed to be infected from contact with dromedary camels and the remaining infections occurred among close contacts outside of health care settings.
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% 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.
There is no specific antiviral treatment for MERS-CoV infection.
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 vaccine against MERS-CoV.
CEPI has 5 MERS vaccine candidates in its portfolio.