Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Emergent Blog: Talking about MERS-CoV

Good day, dear readers

I am happy to announce that we, the Group/Delegation of Young Virologists, from the Spanish Society of Virology (SEV) are starting an english version of our laureated (because we say so) spanish-written blog. We broke the 1000 visitors barrier a week ago, so the path to follow lead us to this:

An English-written blog (celestial music plays, a-la Monthy Phyton)

And what a better way to start it than with a remix version (with new info) of the very first entry of that blog, about MERS-CoV. 

Why not HIV? Why not flu? Easy-peasy. We like to start things with a bang, talking, sharing information with you about a new, fresh virus, with a whooping 42% of mortality among humans, starting to spread around the world. 

The name of the virus was Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, but, as the middle-eastern people got angry, and anyways it is too long to write each time, it shortened to MERS-CoV. Another name was, originally, HCoV EMC/2012, but again, scientists are very lazy for certain things, and you should give a name to everything. And "toby" was already taken. 

More seriously, MERS-CoV is a novel coronavirus, that is a virus with a positive, single RNA strand (we humans have double-stranded DNA), covered by a nucleocapsid of helical symmetry. The name "coronavirus" came from viewing it at the electron microscope, where you can appreciate small bulbs that form some kind of crown, which translates as "corona". Thus, corona-virus. No one said you have to be original to be a scientist... During this blog, I will always write about the lack of originality scientist have whilst naming things. Is something is rod-shaped, it will be a baculovirus (rod-shaped-virus), and so on. 

But I am drifting away. Now that we know what a coronavirus is, let's talk a bit about the history of said virus. In September 2012, Dr Ali Mohammed Zaki isolated this virus from a patient that died in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia, with acute respiratory syndrome and renal failure (almost a complete package). As it was a newly discovered coronavirus, very similar to SARS (you know folks, this one). A couple of months later, a man with the same conditions appeared and was taken to the UK to be treated, and there was where the virus was properly and definitively identified. 

And that is where the "middle east" in the virus' name comes from. Again, originality

The virus, as I have told you above, produces an acute respiratory syndrome, along with his friends renal failure and severe acute pneumonia, often causing death (duh!) But the problem, as strange as it seems, is not there. The problem is where it comes from and its detection

The origin of this virus, as of January 2014, is still unclear. Most of the coronaviruses come from an animal reservoir (as does, for example, flu, which comes from birds). But the reservoir for this coronavirus is not yet identified. There is the theory that it comes from bats, as does the majority of the coronavirus. But in November 2013 scientist successfully identified antibodies in sera of camels, dating as far back as 2003. The camels where native of United Arab Emirates (omani) and Spain. They also tested camels from a german zoo, and found them to be free of those antibodies, meaning (probably) that the virus has a limited geographic range. An updated theory (here) is that the virus could have passed from bats to camels via guano (bat shit) because the water used is normally from guano-floored caves. 
Deadlier than the one in the cigarettes...

As for the transmission, it does transmit between humans, but it is unknown how. The cases in which the virus has hopped between human hosts were closed families and in health care facilities, but not in big communities, suggesting that the rate is very low. This is according to the way the virus infects the respiratory system. It infects non-ciliated epithelial cells in the lungs, which accounts for less than 20%, so a large number of virions per cell will be required for a transmission. So, close-up, yes, far away, no. That was learnt in a bad way by the British, who started to get sick after treating patients infected with MERS-CoV. 

So, to sum up: Is the virus dangerous? Yes, yes it is. Could it cause a great pandemic? Right now no. But the fear of the WHO is that if the virus mutates it could pass between humans more efficiently, causing said pandemic. That is why it is customary for every country to analise and report each case of MERS-CoV. Better safe than sorry...

So, that's all for today. Hope you liked this first entry in the language of the Empire (pick between USA and his little cousin). There will be more to come, I hope each Monday from now on!!

PS: If you want to know more about the virus, here is an useful link. Also, a conference of WHO that took place on July 9th 2013 and the DON link of the WHO, in which reports are updated almost every day of the epidemics in the world. 

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