Vaccine in sight as new MERS cases reported in Saudi Arabia

A prototype vaccine against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus has shown promising results

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A prototype vaccine against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has shown promising results as the number of cases in the deadly outbreak in Riyadh grew by six, including a 109-year-old man.

A study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests the vaccine guards against the disease in monkeys and camels. The researchers, led by University of Pennsylvania, say their experimental vaccine could be a “valuable tool” in two different ways — first, to immunize camels to stop it spreading to human populations and, secondly, as a jab to protect individuals at risk of getting MERS.

In the trial, the vaccine was tested on blood samples taken from camels and appeared to kick-start the production of antibody proteins that may help mount a defence against the virus. And when it was given to macaque monkeys later exposed to MERS, the animals did not become ill.

Prof Andrew Easton, from Warwick University, said the data show that the vaccine is capable of generating protective antibodies in laboratory studies and also in camels. Newly announced coronavirus confirmations from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) boost the number of cases reported since July 21 in Riyadh to 81.

In its daily update on Friday, the ministry said five of the six patients had contact with a suspected or confirmed case in the community or hospital, suggesting that they could be part of an outbreak at Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Medical City.

The 109-year-old man is hospitalized in stable condition, as are the other five patients.

One of the new confirmed cases is a 40-year-old woman who is an expatriate healthcare worker. Others include three men, aged 87, 72, and 71, and a 58-year-old woman who apparently did not have contact with an earlier case.

In addition to the new cases, the MOH reported one death in a previously announced case-patient from Riyadh, an 86-year-old man who had underlying health conditions.

The MOH said 52 people are still being treated for their infections, and 4 more are in home isolation.

New additional cases lift Saudi Arabia’s overall total from the disease, first detected in 2012, to 1,134, which includes 486 deaths. So far 592 people have recovered from their infections.

King Abdulaziz Medical City said in Twitter posts that it had postponed most outpatient appointments scheduled for Aug. 23 and Aug. 24 to curb spread of the virus. The only exceptions are for chemotherapy, obstetrics, and valve replacement clinics.

A specialty children’s hospital that is part of the medical city will continue with business as usual, with no cancelled clinics or admissions.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on August 22, 2015.

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