Via The National, an editorial calling for a major seroprevalence study: Mers survey would be of great value.
After the death from Mers-coronavirus of the Al Ain-based paramedic Abundio Verzosa Esporlas on Thursday, there were reports of parents refusing to send their children to school. This was a gross overreaction to the tragedy and Health Authority-Abu Dhabi were right on Sunday to urge the public to ignore rumours and follow simple but reliable health precautions.
Although Mers – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – has a fatality rate of some 40 per cent, in two years it has so far infected only 212 people across the world. Of those who have died from the virus, the vast majority have been elderly and already suffering from other serious illnesses. Mr Esporlas is a rare, tragic case of a younger, healthy person succumbing.
The problem for health authorities in the region, and for the general public, is that so little is known about the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. It is thought to originate in bats and research shows that it also infects camels (dromedaries not bactrians).
However, there have been few cases of animals actually showing symptoms of illness, although antibodies have been found in many blood samples taken from camels across the region and in North Africa.
Researchers believe that human infection derives from camels but are unclear as to precisely how, as many victims have not had direct contact with either camels or other infected humans. One suspicion is that the disease might be more prevalent than evidence would indicate: that possibly younger, fitter people may contract the virus unknowingly and suffer little more than a mild cough.
One way of proving this theory would be for a serological survey of the wider population to see if antibodies to the virus are widespread. So far, only one limited survey of this kind has been taken of abattoir workers in Saudi Arabia. The findings were negative but the researchers admit the sample was too small to be definitive.
Although identifying Mers-Cov antibodies in blood samples is not easy, it would surely be of great value in solving the detective puzzle that Mers represents. It might also help reassure the public.