Coronavirus: Older cousin MERS killed as recent as December

Years of research on SARS, MERS diseases have not helped much in dealing with COVID-19

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 05 March 2020

When reports of the novel coronavirus — now called COVID-19 — outbreak hit global press in January 2020, it took the world by surprise. What remained under the radar was how  MERS — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome — caused by a former avatar of the deadly virus was still killing people seven years after its debut.

MERS and SARS — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — both caused by forms of coronavirus have been among the major healthcare challenges the world has faced in the new millenium.   

SARS infected 8,096 people across 30 countries between November 1, 2002 and July 31, 2003, killing 774. But no outbreak has been reported since then. Its fatality rate was 9.56 per cent, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.

MERS, on the other hand, infected people even in 2019, after being reported first in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In December 2019, Qatar’s National IHR Focal Point — a WHO body for global health security — confirmed three cases of MERS.

The first patient, a woman in her 60s, died of the disease December 12, 2019. The two asymptomatic secondary cases identified from the 47 people she was in contact with, were stated to be stable till December 23, according to WHO data.

In November 2019, the National IHR Focal Point of Saudi Arabia reported 10 cases of MERS and one associated death.

Between July and December 2019, it infected 51 people in 27 countries. Every third infected person died.

Its symptoms — fever, cough and shortness of breath — are alike COVID-19, which has infected 94,334 people in 82 countries so far, killing 3,221. 

The novel coronavirus is milder (mortality rate: 2-5 per cent) than MARS and SARS, though it is highly infectious.

Scientists have been studying the diseases ever since their outbreak, but years of research have not helped much in dealing with COVID-19.

Some quarters have indicated that a warmer weather might help control COVID-19. But the MERS experience shows that such virus can survive warmer climates.

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