MERS Treatment Works in Monkeys
Sept. 9 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
A pair of drugs used to treat hepatitis C in humans seems to protect monkeys from the MERS coronovirus, which has killed at least 50 people in the Middle East and Europe.
Rhesus monkeys given the drugs ribavirin and interferon-α2b eight hours after exposure to the virus had minimal symptoms, compared with their untreated counterparts, according to a new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health that raises hopes for a human cure.
“As these two drugs are already used in combination in the clinic for other infections, IFN-α2b and ribavirin should be considered for the management of MERS-CoV cases,” the researchers wrote in their report, published Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.
The study comes on the heels of yet another MERS death in Saudi Arabia, where at least 86 people have contracted the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-two Saudis have died since the outbreak started in April 2012.
But symptoms of the virus, which include fever and cough, can take a week to appear, making the eight-hour treatment window used in the study hard to hit.
The authors admit that the findings are “difficult to extrapolate” to severe human cases, noting that the treatment “would be expected to provide the greatest benefit early in infection.”
“It is currently unknown whether initiation of treatment upon progression to severe respiratory illness would have any benefit,” they wrote. “However, the prolonged disease course in humans suggests that the treatment window may be considerably wider in the clinic.”
MERS Toll Ticking Up
Aug. 29 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
The MERS coronovirus continues to spread throughout Saudi Arabia, where 41 people have died from the infection.
In the last week, at least six more Saudis have contracted the virus and two more have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country has been ground zero for the outbreak, with 82 of the 103 known MERS cases across Europe and the Middle East.
Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, France and Italy, according to the World Health Organization. All the cases have been linked to the Middle East.
Bats Eyed as Source of MERS
Aug. 22 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
The virus, dubbed MERS CoV for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, emerged in April 2012. But despite 96 infections in nine countries — all of them tied to the Middle East — the source of the virus has stumped health officials.
To see whether bats could be the culprit, researchers tested seven species found in Saudi Arabia, where the virus has sickened 76 people and killed 39. Fecal matter from an Egyptian tomb bat tested positive for a strain of the virus that was genetically identical to that from a patient in Bisha, a town in southwestern Saudi Arabia.
“Cross-species transmission from bats to humans can be direct, through contact with infected bats or their excreta, or facilitated by intermediate hosts,” the researchers wrote, stressing that the mechanism by which the virus might leap from bat to human is still unclear.
But the study, published online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, fails to definitively tie the deadly virus to bats, as some infected people are thought to have contracted the virus through relatives or, in the case of hospital workers, patients. Earlier this month, a different group of researchers suggested camels could be transmitting the virus.
“Given the rarity of MERS CoV sequences detected by our survey and the broad distribution of MERS cases throughout the Middle East, we speculate that there are probably other hosts,” the study authors wrote.
Virus Casts Shadow on Ramadan
July 9 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Another person has been diagnosed with the deadly MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, where the month-long observance of Ramadan began today.
The latest case, a 66-year-old man, brings the tally of MERS infections to 80 people in nine countries, according to the World Health Organization. Forty-five people have died since the outbreak began in April 2012.
Saudi Arabia has been hit hardest by the virus, with 66 cases and 38 deaths, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health.
Eight of the most recently infected showed no symptoms before they were diagnosed with the deadly virus, according to the World Health Organization, flaming fears of person-to-person transmission at religious gatherings.
“The recent mild and asymptomatic cases raise concerns about the possibility of large numbers of milder cases going undetected,” WHO said in a statement today. “More information is needed about the virus excretion patterns in persons without symptoms to understand the risk they may pose to noninfected persons.”
WHO has convened an emergency committee of 15 experts to help prepare for a worsening of the outbreak. In the meantime, the agency is advising those traveling to the Middle East to avoid close contact with sick people, wash their hands thoroughly and often and avoid contact with wild or farm animals.
Although the virus has not yet landed in the U.S., infectious disease experts are on the lookout for people with respiratory symptoms, according to Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
“[MERS] had its origin in the Middle East, principally in Saudi Arabia, and has occasionally been exported to other countries,” said Schaffner, adding that American health officials have been instructed to quickly isolate, test and treat people with MERS-like symptoms in the U.S. “I think families celebrating Ramadan in other parts of the world need not be concerned in any way. This is not going to suddenly spring up in Nashville.”
Toddler Dies From MERS Coronavirus
July 8 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
A 2-year-old child has died from the MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health.
The child, whose name and sex have not been released, had been suffering from chronic pulmonary disease, according to the Ministry.
A 53-year-old patient in the country’s eastern region also died from the virus, raising the death toll for the country to 38.
The number of infections in Saudi Arabia rose to 65, with three new confirmed cases, the Health Ministry said. The new cases include a female health care worker.
Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, France and Italy, according to the World Health Organization. All the cases have been linked to the Middle East.
Man Dies From MERS in London
July 4 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
A Qatari man has died from the MERS coronavirus in London, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed today.
The man, whose name has not been released, developed symptoms of the virus in September after traveling to Saudi Arabia, according to a spokeswoman from Public Health England.
“He was treated in Saudi Arabia originally, but as his condition worsened he was medically transferred to London for treatment,” the spokeswoman said.
The man, who was 49 years old at the time of the transfer, was subsequently diagnosed with MERS. He died Friday at London’s Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospital after a nine-month battle with the deadly virus.
“Guy’s and St. Thomas’ can confirm that the patient with severe respiratory illness due to novel coronavirus (MERS-nCV) sadly died on Friday 28 June, after his condition deteriorated despite every effort and full supportive treatment,” the hospital said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia has been hardest hit by the outbreak, with at least 62 cases and 36 deaths, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health.
Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, France and Italy, according to the World Health Organization. All the cases have ties to the Middle East.
9 New Cases; 2 More Deaths
June 24 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Nine more people have contracted the MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, including two female health care workers in the Kingdom’s Eastern region, according to health officials.
One of the health care workers was based in Al-Ahsa – ground zero for the biggest cluster of MERS cases known to date, many of them linked to a single health care facility. Neither health care worker showed symptoms before testing positive for the virus, according to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health.
Those most recently infected ranged in age from 7 to 15, the Ministry said. Once again, none showed symptoms before testing positive for the virus during routine epidemiological surveillance.
Two more people died from the virus over the weekend, including a 32-year-old cancer patient, according to the Ministry, bringing the death toll in Saudi Arabia to 34.
4 New Cases; All Recovered
June 21 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Four more people have contracted the MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, according to health officials, who say the people infected the most recently have already recovered.
All four patients were women, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health, ranging in age from 29 to 25. Three of them were health care workers, the Ministry said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia has seen 53 cases of the MERS coronavirus since the outbreak started in April 2013. Thirty-two of them have been fatal.
Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, according to the World Health Organization.
Deadly Virus Swept Through Hospitals
June 20 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
A closer look at the largest cluster of MERS cases is giving researchers a glimpse at how the virus might spread.
The cluster, which emerged in Saudi Arabia in April 2013, involved 23 people, 21 of whom contracted the virus as hospital patients in the kingdom’s eastern province, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The remaining two cases were health care workers at the hospitals.
Symptoms of the virus ranged from fever, cough and shortness of breath to gastrointestinal problems, according to the study, which identified intensive care units, hemodialysis units and inpatient wards as the three main areas of person-to-person transmission. How the virus spreads, however – whether it be through direct contact or respiratory droplets – remains unclear.
As of June 12, 15 of the patients had died, six had recovered and two remained hospitalized, according to the study.
The toll of the virus continues to rise in Saudi Arabia, with three new cases and four more deaths reported over the weekend. ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said studies were “critically important” in understanding how best to control the virus.
“This study represents the collaboration of people from many different countries — that is great to see,” said Besser, who served as acting director of the CDC during the H1N1 outbreak. “Hopefully, as investigations continue, scientists will learn how this infection is spreading in the community. Only then can we really talk about overall prevention.”
2-Year-Old Contracts Deadly Virus
June 17 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Three more people have contracted the deadly MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, including a 2-year-old child who is clinging to life at an intensive care unit in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi health officials said today.
News of the infected child came three weeks after a Saudi teenager developed symptoms of the virus, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Saudi Arabia has been hit hardest by the virus, with 49 cases and 32 deaths, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health. Four of the deaths occurred over the weekend, according to the Ministry’s website.
The latest cases raise the tally of infections to 64 people in eight countries.
MERS Toll Rises; Men More at Risk
June 14 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Six more people have contracted the deadly MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, according to health officials, and three more people have died.
The latest cases raise the tally of infections to 61 people in eight countries. The death toll from the virus, which emerged in April 2012, has reached 34.
Saudi Arabia has been hit hardest, with 46 cases and 28 deaths, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health. Three-quarters of the patients have been men, the Ministry said in a statement, and most have had “one or more major chronic conditions.”
Virus Slams Saudi Arabia; Travelers Warned
June 6 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Another person has died from the MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, bringing the death toll to 31.
At least 55 people in eight countries have contracted the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Saudi Arabia has been hit hardest with 40 cases, 25 of them fatal.
Health officials are still searching for the source of the outbreak, which began in April 2012. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
Anyone traveling to the Middle East is encouraged to avoid close contact with people who look sick, wash hands thoroughly and often, and avoid undercooked meats as well as raw, unpeeled fruits and vegetables and unpurified water.
People who develop respiratory symptoms after visiting the Middle East are urged to cover their mouths during coughs and sneezes and seek immediate medical attention, which could result in a period of isolation if tests for the virus come back positive.
Saudi Teen Contracts Deadly Virus
June 5 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
A 14-year-old Saudi girl is the latest victim of the MERS coronavirus spreading through the Middle East and parts of Europe, the World Health Organization said today.
The girl, who suffered from underlying medical conditions, developed symptoms of the virus one week ago, according to the agency. She is said to be in stable condition.
At least 54 people have contracted the virus, which emerged in April 2012. Thirty people have died.
The median age of patients is 56 years, according to the latest data from WHO, which does not include the 14-year-old girl. Many of the patients had underlying medical conditions that may have made them more vulnerable.
The Search for Clues in Clusters
June 4 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
At least 54 people have contracted the MERS coronavirus since April 2012, according to health officials who are looking for clues in seven disease clusters.
The first cluster of two cases occurred near Amman, Jordan, in April 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The second cluster occurred six months later in Saudi Arabia, where three family members tested positive for the virus. Two of them died.
Since February 2013, five more clusters have been reported in the U.K., France, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia again. The largest cluster of 23 cases has been linked to a Saudi health care facility, according to the CDC. Eleven people in that cluster have died.
The clusters provide evidence of human-to-human transmission, according to investigators who are still scrambling to find the source of the outbreak. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
MERS Coronavirus Cases, Fatalities Mount
June 3 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Eight countries have reported MERS coronavirus infections as the number of cases and fatalities continues to mount. Italy confirmed its first case Saturday as a 45-year-old man who had recently traveled to Jordan, and Saudi Arabia reported three more deaths Sunday. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
Three More Deaths in Saudi Arabia
June 2 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Saudi health officials say three more people have died from the MERS coronavirus, bringing the death toll in Saudi Arabia to 24. The country has seen the highest number of MERS cases since the outbreak started last year, with 38 known infections.
Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
Virus Lands in Italy
June 1 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)
Italian health officials today confirmed the country’s first case of the MERS coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.
The patient, a 45-year-old man, is said to be on good condition after receiving treatment at a hospital in Tuscany, according to the AP. He reportedly developed symptoms of the virus after a 40-day visit to Jordan.
Infections have also emerged in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
Worry Grows Over ‘Superspreaders’
May 31 Richard Besser (@DrRichardBesser)
The MERS coronavirus has yet to surface in the United States, but experts say it’s “only a plane ride away.”
“It would be easy for this to be imported to this country,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC works 24/7 to track infections around the world because we are all connected by the air we breathe.”
Frieden said he’s particularly worried about “superspreaders,” people who can pass viruses more readily than others. The 2003 SARS outbreak was driven by a small group of superspreaders, including the initial case in Hong Kong, and a couple who travelled to Toronto.
SARS sickened more than 8,000 people, killing 774 of them. The virus vanished in 2004, probably because non-superspreaders proved very ineffective at spreading the disease.
So far, at least 50 people have contracted MERS – the Middle East respiratory syndrome – and at least 30 of them have died. And while the virus seems to be spreading more slowly than SARS, there’s still the potential for superspreaders to ramp up the numbers.
“It’s only in the past month or two that it’s begun to look a lot more like SARS, and that’s why we’re more concerned now,” said Frieden, adding that Americans who have traveled to the Middle East should tell their doctors if they develop flu-like symptoms so they can be isolated and treated.
“Our job is to worry about things that might harm Americans so that Americans don’t have to worry themselves,” he said. “What we’re doing is working 24/7 to track it, to figure out where it is, how it’s spreading and how to make sure that we can stop it.”
Death Toll Growing
May 30 Katie Moisse (@KatieMoisse)
A new virus spreading through the Middle East has claimed three more lives, according to Saudi health officials, bringing the death toll to 30.
At least 50 people have been sickened by the virus, newly-dubbed MERS-CoV for “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.” The majority of cases have clustered in Saudi Arabia. But infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.
All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
A Frenchman, who became ill after travelling to Dubai, died earlier this week roughly one month after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms. His roommate at the hospital also contracted the virus, reaffirming suspicions that MERS-CoV can be passed from person-to-person.
The virus has also spread through a health care facility Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, where at least 22 patients have been sickened and 10 have died. In light of such cases, doctors on Wednesday recommended quarantining patients for at least 12 days.
Until recently, MERS-CoV was known widely as the “SARS-like virus” because of its semblance to the deadly SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774. But experts caution that while both viruses can cause pneumonia and organ failure, MERS-CoV appears to spread less readily than SARS — so far.
May 30 Richard Besser (@DrRichardBesser)
In 2003 I was working in the Bacterial Respiratory Diseases Branch at CDC when SARS hit. At first, no one knew what was causing the outbreak. Then the CDC identified a coronavirus as the cause of SARS. I remember the intensity of activity and fear that outbreak engendered. Here was a new virus rapidly spreading around the world, spreading within hospitals, infecting and killing previously healthy people, many of them young. No one knew how far it would spread and how many would be killed. Then, almost miraculously, as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. The WHO received reports of 8,096 cases and 774 deaths from 29 countries.
Now another coronavirus has appeared. Unlike SARS, this is spreading much slower. The first case was identified in April 2012 and to date there have been 50 cases and 30 deaths. The majority of cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia. All patients either traveled to the Middle East or had close contact with someone who did. There is evidence of transmission within hospitals, but it has not been determined how community transmission is occurring. According to CDC, the MERS coronavirus is most similar to coronaviruses seen in bats.
At this point, there is not much that the public needs to do. If you are traveling to the Middle East, check out the precautions recommended by the CDC. Basically, they recommend following standard practices to avoid infections: frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with sick people. In addition avoid contact with wildlife. If you travel to the Middle East and develop any flu like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches) tell your doctor where you have been so you can be tested.
The CDC is working with health departments to increase their awareness of this outbreak so that they can quickly identify cases in the United States. That is a critical step in containing the spread of new diseases.