As the world battles COVID-19, Middle East wins war on its virus predecessor: MERS

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While the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Middle East is winning the war on the previous deadly outbreak to threaten the world - MERS.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Seven years before COVID-19 began making global headlines, the first outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) - known to cause acute respiratory disease, gastrointestinal problems, kidney failure and death - was reported in Saudi Arabia.

The disease, also referred to as MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV), led to 2519 worldwide cases since the April 2012, including 866 deaths - a mortality rate of about 35 percent. Most of these cases (83 percent) were reported from Saudi Arabia. The height of the MERS-CoV epidemic was in April 2015 when 395 cases were recorded, most in Saudi Arabia (342 cases).

But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the last reported cases of the virus were in January this year, when 17 new laboratory-confirmed cases were reported - two in the UAE, and 15 more in Saudi Arabia.

The deaths occurred among patients aged 45 to 85 years with underlying health conditions.

Dr. Ulrich Wernery, scientific director of Dubai’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, which plays an important role in efforts to combat the virus, believes the disease is no longer a serious threat to public safety.

“The last major viruses - severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), MERS and COVID-19 - were all coronaviruses,” he said. “SARS was essentially eradicated because of the killing of every civet cat - the source of the virus.”

“With MERS - a virus linked to camels - the same could not be done because you cannot kill more than 20 million camels.”

“But what has been done is acting on the knowledge we had; and limiting interaction with the species and limiting human-to-human transmission - especially in hospital settings. That has led to human numbers of MERS now being minimal. Although we should not forget it, MERS has subsided, and we can control it.”

“With COVID - which is the worst of the three viruses - we can learn lesson from these previous coronaviruses; we need to act on the knowledge we have and that is how to limit the spread.”

Read more:

Coronavirus: MERS experience helped Saudi Arabia fight COVID-19, health ministry says

Behind the name: Why is pandemic called coronavirus, COVID-19?

MERS virus in Saudi poses hospital threat, study says

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