MERS Virus Jumped from Animals to Humans

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MERSMiddle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is a coronavirus. It first made news in 2012, when a man in Saudi Arabia was found to have “SARS-like symptoms” and later died.

Coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory illness in mammals, including humans. And while corona viruses are often responsible for things like the common cold, MERS has proven itself much more deadly than any coronavirus previously seen. It was first found in animals July of 2011, and about a year later multiple human victims were reported. A new analysis indicates that the virus originated in animals, which then passed it along to humans.

So far, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome has affected 132 people and killed 58 of them. Most of those MERS deaths occurred in Saudi Arabia. Scientists already know that the coronavirus can be carried by both camels and bats, but they have yet to figure out if it was one of these animals, or a different creature altogether, that was the definitive source of the human infections.

Scientists are also trying to figure out whether the virus jumped to humans just once, or several times. Analysis of viral DNA samples taken directly from the throats of more than 20 Saudi Arabian MERS patients are giving the medical community some much anticipated information. According to the research, the virus seems to have leapt between animals and humans seven distinct times. That means that multiple strains are circulating among people.

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