Last year, a new SARS-like virus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) broke out in Saudi Arabia. Since then, 94 cases of the very lethal disease have been reported by the World Health Organization (50% of the cases have been fatal). All the cases have been on the Arabian Peninsula. The virus causes severe respiratory symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The virus has spread person-to-person among family members and close contacts… but there hasn’t been any sustained transmission.
Our Arizona State Public Health Laboratory passed all the requirements to test for the new virus under an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA this week. We received the CDC-developed assay test kit last week from the Laboratory Response Network… so now we’re able to test any suspect patient samples in Arizona.
Interestingly, a study published in The Lancet this week found that the virus is common among dromedary (one hump) camels on the Arabian Peninsula. CDC, WHO, and other public health organizations are looking into all severe acute respiratory cases, especially those with recent travel to the region to find any new cases and learn more about how it might be spreading.
Hopefully we won’t see any cases here in Arizona, but if any patients are suspected of having MERS-CoV because of their symptoms and travel history, our State Lab will now be able to verify or rule out the diagnosis quickly so epidemiologists at the state and county can prevent additional cases. If you’re interested in learning more about MERS-CoV, here’s some up to date information.