New vaccine could offer security against the deadly MERS

Hope may be in sight for a viable vaccine against the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The highly contagious airborne disease that has affected more than 1,600 people, of whom 584 perished. A team of researchers from the Animal Health Research Centre and the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain believes it has created a means to protect people from the infection.

The Spanish scientist recently tested their vaccine in dromedary camels, which can also be infected with MERS. So far, it has been effective at stopping the zoonotic virus. Now, the team seeks to determine if the vaccine can also help protect human by reducing the risk of contagion.

Although MERS is not yet fully understood, it is believed that humans have caught the illness from contact with infected animals. In particular, the nasal secretion of the camels is thought to serve as a conduit for the virus.

MERS installs itself in the upper respiratory track of the infected being, causing flu-like symptoms that result in a great deal of mucus production and dispersion. The tiny droplets of mucus expectorated by coughing or sneezing contain the virus and allow it to spread.

“It could be that total protection against MERS-coronavirus will never be attained, since there is low-level virus replication in the upper respiratory tract even in the presence of specific antibodies, similarly to other respiratory viruses, like the SARS coronavirus,” said Joaquim Segalés, lecturer in the Department of Animal Health and Anatomy at the UAB.

“This is nonetheless a very significant step forward in the fight against this pathogen; now we need to delve more deeply into the duration of the immunity and dosage before applying it in real situations.”

Conclusions should not be hastily drawn for the initial trail only included eight camels – four of whom were given the vaccine and four who served as a control group. The study, which was conducted in the Canary Islands, lasted for three months. All eight camels were exposed to the MERS virus. The four that had received the two separate vaccine doses necessary for immunization seemed unaffected. The camels that were not vaccinated suffered from runny noses and bouts of sneezing.

Further research most also be done to determine if the vaccine offers long lasting protection or just temporary defense.

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