Via NPR's Shots blog: Deadly MERS Virus Circulates Among Arabian Camels. After reporting on recent studies, the post concludes:
It's known that bats harbor a similar virus, and last fall [Dr. Ian] Lipkin's group caused a stir by publishing evidence that a virus extracted from an Egyptian tomb bat contained a short stretch of genes identical to MERS virus from humans. But that bat was one among thousands of samples with no evidence of the virus. And not everybody in the community is persuaded that single bat was infected with the same one that causes human disease.
"We need to find out if there is another intermediate host that can carry the virus more closely into the human population," says Lipkin, who has become famous for his ability to track down elusive new viruses. "We need to understand how people get exposed to this virus."
The answer, Lipkin thinks, lies in "gumshoe epidemiology" — the painstaking work of investigating what distinguishes people who have gotten MERS from counterparts who haven't.
In fact, after a lengthy delay that has generated much criticism, Arabian health officials are about to launch just such a project, called a case-control study. The World Health Organization has scheduled a meeting next week to finalize the study design, [Dr. Ziad A.] Memish says.
But Memish doesn't expect the study to answer crucial questions. "I don't think we're going to find anything new because what we've been doing for the last 1.5 years is an in-depth investigation of every case and their contacts," he tells Shots.
[Dr. Marion] Koopmans disagrees. A recent WHO report, she notes, "makes really clear that few people [with MERS] have had the kind of follow-up you would want."
One sidelight of the new report is the strong suggestion that collaborations between Saudi researchers and outsiders continue to be contentious.
A previous collaboration between Lipkin and Memish (the lead person for MERS in the Saudi government) has ended. Although Memish's name has appeared on previous papers with Lipkin, it's missing this time.
"We're surprised to see this report coming from their lab, using probably our samples, but we're not aware of it [until now]," Memish says. Lipkin says the group collected its own specimens in Saudi Arabia in collaboration with a group from King Saud University.
Lipkin acknowledges his collaboration with Memish has broken down. "We've gone our separate ways, and I wish him well," Lipkin says.