Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a respiratory illness caused by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Since September 2012, WHO has been notified of 1289 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including at least 455 related deaths on a global level. Transmitted from animals, MERS-CoV has been found in camels in several countries.
In May 2015, China confirmed its first imported MERS-CoV infection in a 44-year-old South Korean businessman, who flew to Hong Kong. The disease was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012. South Korea has been hard-hit by the virus, with almost 5000 people put under quarantine and 15 deaths recorded.
In 2003, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak had panicked and immobilized China, when no medicines were available to cure those infected. During the SARS outbreak in Southern China, the Chinese government failed to disclose all SARS cases in the country. With its experience in handling SARS, China seems to have learned lessons on how to manage public health crises. MERS belongs to the same viral family as SARS. Both affect the respiratory system – SARS mainly affects the lungs, while MERS also affects the kidneys. However, MERS is proven to be less communicable than SARS. The World Health Organization says there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of MERS, though it is more deadly in those who are infected.
The country has been emphasizing the importance of preventing and controlling MERS since 2012. Beijing, the capital city is now MERS ready with the following preparations:
- New policies for hospitals and healthcare facilities to respond better to future potential outbreaks
- The government has allocated healthcare funds to put up isolation wards in hospitals so that MERS does not spread through the air and is also prevented from spreading in hospitals.
- Local social agencies have launched public health campaigns to alleviate public concerns while instructing them on prevention care.
According to Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a specialist on respiratory diseases, “the medical community in China has made tremendous progress on precautionary and quarantine measures since the SARS outbreak.”
MERS control protocol, updated recently by the Chinese authorities also recommends that all patients with unexplained high temperatures must be questioned about their recent travel and contact with animals. People who have been in contact with confirmed cases face mandatory 14-day quarantine and those who have been in contact with suspected cases are kept under medical surveillance at home.
Beijing CDC also reminds the public to avoid close contact with people with respiratory infection symptoms, such as a fever, runny nose and cough, and those with such symptoms should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
China & U.S. Develop New Antibody Targeting MERS
Scientists from China and America have jointly developed a new antibody targeting the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. Fudan University, which worked with the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop the antibody, has reported that this test on animals had provided very effective results. According to researchers, the m336 antibody could neutralize the MERS virus more effectively than other antibodies. It has also proved more effective when coupled with a specific type of polypeptide. However the test has to go through four phases, before it hits the market – laboratory tests, animal testing, trials on humans and approval from the Food and Drug Administration.