While Saudis may be becoming Let the Kissing Resume more relaxed about the MERS-CoV virus, medical researchers are not, Arab News reports. In an Associate Press story run by the paper, a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) cautions that the disease is both highly transmissible and more lethal than the SARS virus that killed 800 people in a global outbreak ten years ago.

The article notes that the original vector of the disease is still unknown, but eyes are now turning toward bats and their possible connection to dates from trees in which they rest. This is still very speculative, however.

MERS virus spreads easily, deadlier than SARS — scientists
MARIA CHENG | AP

LONDON: A mysterious new respiratory virus that originated in the Middle East spreads easily between people and appears more deadly than SARS, doctors reported Wednesday after investigating the biggest outbreak in Saudi Arabia.

More than 60 cases of what is now called MERS, including 38 deaths, have been recorded by the World Health Organization in the past year, mostly in Saudi Arabia. So far, illnesses haven’t spread as quickly as SARS did in 2003, ultimately triggering a global outbreak that killed about 800 people.

An international team of doctors who investigated nearly two dozen cases in eastern Saudi Arabia found the new coronavirus has some striking similarities to SARS. Unlike SARS, though, scientists remain baffled as to the source of MERS.

In a worrying finding, the team said MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) not only spreads easily between people, but within hospitals. That was also the case with SARS, a distant relative of the new virus.

“To me, this felt a lot like SARS did,” said Dr. Trish Perl, a senior hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who was part of the team. Their report was published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Perl said they couldn’t nail down how it was spread in every case — through droplets from sneezing or coughing, or a more indirect route. Some of the hospital patients weren’t close to the infected person, but somehow picked up the virus.


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