MERS Tracked to the Source; Danger Remains Low
For several months, doctors gave been engaged in an ongoing quest to discover the origins of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Leads were many; breakthroughs few and far between. Now a single bat may have changed the balance of power in this particular hunt.
As the New York Times and other outlets recently reported, a practically unheard-of 100% genetic match has been found with a bat sent to medical officials from Saudi Arabia:
The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has been going on for 15 months, with most victims falling ill in Saudi Arabia and others growing sick after having traveled to the Middle East. In a study released Wednesday, an international team of doctors blamed coronavirus in bats for the human outbreak, but said that many questions remained, in part because a perfect match for the virus was found in only a single insect-eating bat out of about 100 Saudi bats tested.
It was an essential lead because it has allowed officials to determine with near-certainty that MERS did indeed arise in Saudi Arabia, and that its reservoir (source of infection) was, indeed, bats carrying some version of a coronavirus.
That’s a lot of jargon to make a simple point, namely that MERS is slowly falling to repeated inquiry, and that its spread to these shores is looking increasingly unlikely. Saudi officials have been vigilant in reporting and treating any unusual cases of pneumonia-like symptoms, helping to insure each new infection is contained.
It seems MERS could become a lesson in how to contain an outbreak safely by harnessing the power of international cooperation.