The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus is more deadly, unpredictable and has significant differences from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, according to Saudi and UK scientists studying the virus.
“MERS coronavirus appears to be more deadly, with 60 percent of patients with co-existing chronic illnesses dying, compared with the one-percent toll of SARS,” said Ziad Memish, Saudi deputy minister for public health.
He said that the MERS infecting humans is unpredictable because the source of the virus is not yet known. While sharing clinical similarities with the SARS-like fever, cough and incubation period, he said there are also some important differences such as the rapid progression to respiratory failure of up to five days. The progression occurs earlier than in SARS.
In a Lancet Infectious Diseases publication, Saudi and UK scientists also noted a trend of older patients with more men and patients with underlying medical conditions succumbing to the disease.
The symptoms of patients suffering from MERS coronavirus are fever (98 percent), chills (87 percent), cough (83 percent), shortness of breath (72 percent), and muscle pain (32 percent). A quarter of patients also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting.
However, in SARS, the majority of cases (96 percent) occurred in people with underlying chronic medical conditions including diabetes (68 percent), high blood pressure (34 percent), chronic heart disease (28 percent), and chronic renal disease (49 percent).
“The recent identification of milder or asymptomatic cases of MERS in health care workers, children, and family members of contacts of MERS cases indicates that we are only reporting the tip of the iceberg of severe cases and there is a spectrum of milder clinical disease which requires urgent definition,” said Ali Zumla, a professor from University College London.