In 2012, a novel coronavirus was identified in Saudi Arabia; it was named the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). It quickly spread to the United Kingdom through travel. While the MERS-CoV has never caused an outbreak as large as that of the SARS virus, it has also not been contained as successfully. MERS-CoV outbreaks have continued to pop up from 2012 to now, with the most recent outbreak update coming just last week from Saudi Arabia. The MERS-CoV outbreaks have caused a total of 1,905 confirmed cases in 27 countries, with 677 deaths. The severe pneumonia caused by MERS-coV is more deadly than that caused by SARS and other coronoviruses, leading to the alarmingly high 37% death rate.
There are currently no vaccines and no treatments for MERS-CoV. Quarantining those infected and using additional precautions when treating these patients have been the only successful preventative measures to reduce spread. The biggest problem for complete elimination of this virus is that, unlike the SARS virus, the MERS-CoV can also infect an animal that has frequent contact with humans: camels. In many parts of the globe, camels are essential for transportation and play a pivotal role in the economy. Since camels have been shown to be a reservoir for the MERS-CoV, and people in these regions need to continue to have close contact with these animals, the virus has an easy route to re-enter the human population even with the implementation of the same control measures that were so successful with the SARS virus.
|The MERS-CoV can be spread from camels to humans in many ways.|
While this vaccine candidate is still in the early stages of development, the successful use of the previously tested and approved rabies vaccine as a backbone may provide a way to shorten the timeline to implementation of the vaccine for animals on a larger scale. This could provide a way to start to eliminate the MERS-CoV reservoir and begin to reduce outbreaks in people across the globe. While other research groups are still searching for human vaccination and treatment strategies that will greatly improve our ability to decrease disease severity and save lives, dealing with this large camel reservoir will be an essential step before disease elimination and eradication can truly be considered.