Death Toll Associated With MERS-CoV Increases by 35 percent

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The Coronavirus Is Far From Sticky, Scientists Found

Coronaviruses are thought to cause the common cold, a type of respiratory illness. Aside from influenza, they cause the most common type of respiratory infection that affects adults around the world. One of the most common, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), killed more than 800 people worldwide and caused widespread panic in 2003.

A coronavirus is a group of viruses linked to the respiratory illness, according to the World Health Organization. Experts believe this virus emerged during an outbreak in Saudi Arabia in 2003 and has been transmitted from human to human. Currently, there are no vaccines to treat a coronavirus infection.

Previous studies have shown that one virus, SARS, can cause serious disease in people and was transmitted to some of the same group of people infected with MERS-CoV, which caused an outbreak in May in France and the Arabian Peninsula. According to findings published in the Journal of Virology, people with SARS can develop what is called a “severe but non-fatal” form of what is referred to as a cloacal eruption (cloacal episodes) when they develop muscle aches and diarrhea that is accompanied by increased pain.

There is reason to believe that SARS patients can also develop SARS/MERS-CoV-like characteristics, but this virus does not appear to be transmitted between close contacts. “Based on the surface protein and number of virus particles we have seen,” researcher Don Horton said, “it is unlikely that this virus can spread easily.”

In the study, investigators used lab techniques and computer models to analyze mucus and fat content to determine how the MERS virus spreads. “The current design of the MERS-CoV virus and its migration mechanism looks like that of the SARS virus,” said study author Elise Guerin. Although a computer model showed the MERS virus relies primarily on cells traveling from one tissue to another, the virus still contains a medium that can bind to human fat tissue.

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Pharmaceutical corporations are developing vaccines for the coronavirus

Researchers believe that development of a vaccine for MERS-CoV is a critical step in keeping it from spreading more widely and that it is possible to do so within the next year. Pharmaceutical companies are working hard on the development of a vaccine. The US Food and Drug Administration recently licensed a MERS vaccine developed by Canadian researchers. The vaccine has shown some promise in tests using different non-invasive methods to test for antibodies produced in people.

From the University of Illinois, Ph.D. student Noma Ghazali came up with a new technique to detect the MERS virus. He found that the virus was more strongly active when exposed to certain light-sensitive molecules (synchrotron x-ray crystallography). After he developed the technique, labs around the world used it to make MERS-specific proteins to see if the virus still contains the same complex. Two years later, they developed MERS crystals that could be tested in biological tests. “These crystals were so sensitive,” said Ghazali, “we could see the virus in as little as an hour, as opposed to days.”

Zachary Chase of Battelle Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio, was in charge of generating the light-sensitive molecules used by the researchers in the study. It took fewer than 50 cells to produce the virus, which protected up to 99 percent of the cells. Chase obtained his PhD at Texas Tech University. He did his postdoctoral research at the Naval Research Laboratory before joining Battelle.

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