While Zika is currently the most talked about viral outbreak around the globe, another pathogen – known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) – has been gaining traction in some regions in the Middle East. Now, physicians have published the results of a recent MERS autopsy in The American Journal of Pathology, in the hopes that the information may lead to a better understanding of the contagion.
It’s estimated that 1,500 people have been infected with MERS, and over 500 people have died as a result of the illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), MERS was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and is the country where most of the cases of the infection have been identified since.
According to the details of the autopsy, the man who died from a MERS infection was 45-years-old and had worked in the United Arab Emirates at a paramedic station. The man worked in the storage room and did not have any direct contact with patients or camels – an animal vector known to transmit the disease.
Within an 8-day period in April of 2014, the man developed a fever, runny nose and cough, before succumbing to the infection. The virus infects the lungs, which could also be the source of transmission.
“Infection of bronchial submucosal glands is a likely source of viral shedding in respiratory secretions leading to human-to-human transmissions,” said Sherif Zaki, lead investigator, and Chief of the Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch at the CDC in Atlanta. Surprising, the autopsy found no signs of acute renal failure or infection of the brain, suggesting that first-line treatment should focus on the lungs.
“The long interval between the emergence of this dangerous disease three years ago and the first autopsy reminds us of the lost opportunity that the decline of the performance of autopsies – particularly research-oriented post-mortem examinations in the United States – represents,” said David H. Walker, director of the University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. The autopsy was conducted on the man 10 days after his death.
According to the CDC, the largest outbreak of MERS outside of the Arabian Peninsula occurred in South Korea last year. The virus is classified as a coronavirus; the same group as the virus that was responsible for the 2003 outbreak of Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in China.