Via The National: Mers coronavirus is still posing myriad of unanswered questions for scientists. Excerpt:
Two years on from when it was discovered, and after it has caused more than 300 deaths, the Mers coronavirus is still posing myriad unanswered questions for scientists.
How is the virus most easily transmitted? Why has the number of Mers cases shot up this year? Are young camels more likely to pass the virus on to people than older animals?
There are many uncertainties surrounding this often-deadly disease, but with the number of cases having risen dramatically to more than 800 in recent months, the vast majority being in Saudi Arabia, efforts to gain a better understanding of the illness and its spread are being stepped up.
The UAE has had at least 70 cases and nine deaths from the disease, making it appropriate that Dubai has moved to centre stage as part of the research efforts.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has initiated a project to test for the Mers coronavirus in the emirate’s camels, after previous studies showed that the animals can transmit the condition to humans.
Over the coming months, Dubai’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) will test 1,000 camels to see if the virus is present in their nasal discharges – which previous studies indicated can contain large quantities of the virus – and their faeces. If they are lactating females, their milk will be tested. As well as camels, the virus has also been found in bats and has been linked to rats.
Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which creates multiple copies of genetic material that in the case of Mers coronavirus is ribonucleic acid (RNA) rather than DNA, the scientists will determine whether the virus is present in the various samples, and if so, at what concentration.
Blood samples from the camels, which will mostly be drawn from herds across Dubai, will be tested for antibodies to the virus.
A key focus of the study, said Prof Ulrich Wernery, the CVRL’s scientific director, was how the infectivity may vary with the age of camels.
With previous findings indicating it may be younger camels that are causing most cases of camel-to-person transmission, the centre has been testing baby camels, those aged one to two years old, and mature adult camels, and comparing the results.
“We want to know which group excretes the virus and from where,” Prof Wernery said. “[And] from which age group and then, which is important, [what] is the danger to humans. When we find out [the] adults do not have the virus, we don’t worry about adults and so concentrate on other [age] groups.”