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MERS-CoV: Understanding the Latest Human Coronavirus Threat (lay summary)

This is a lay summary of the article published under the DOI:

Published onJul 03, 2023
MERS-CoV: Understanding the Latest Human Coronavirus Threat (lay summary)

What we know about the MERS virus so far

In 2018, researchers reviewed what we know about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), or MERS, in the 6 years since it was first discovered in 2012.

The review was publishedat a time when MERS was still the most infectious human coronavirus yet discovered. By then there were already more than 2000 cases in Europe, North Africa and Asia, with most cases confirmed in the Middle East. 

The disease makes people desperately sick. Nearly 1 in 3 patients die, which is a very high figure for any disease. It can spread quickly in big gatherings and through hospitals. It has already been around longer than most other human coronaviruses, which all tended to disappear after a period.

To effectively fight a virus, one must monitor its spread and how well it can infect others. This information can help to control outbreaks and epidemics. This review brought together everything that scientists already knew about the genetics of MERS-HoV, the diseases and conditions it causes, and how to diagnose, treat and possibly prevent these. 

The scientists who compiled the review wanted to understand how far off in the future a possible vaccine against it still was. They also wanted to identify priorities for further research, and in so doing close gaps in their knowledge about MERS and other possible viruses found around the world. 

They first searched for all relevant studies done worldwide on MERS, and then summarised these into a single review document. They focused on what by 2017 was already known about the genome structure of the virus, the symptoms it causes and treatment methods available. They also looked at successes and challenges of vaccine development.

The authors said that MERS-CoV had been circulating among people for more than a year before it was first detected. This means that no one yet knows what or who the original source of the infection was. This could lead to further outbreaks.

 MERS-CoV has also been around longer than most other human coronaviruses, and the authors worry it could spread worldwide and become hard to manage.

Symptoms such as fever, pneumonia, and low blood oxygen levels among people who have recently visited the Arab Peninsula are commonly used to diagnose a MERS-CoV infection. 

The virus is very good at avoiding a person’s immune system, said the authors. This makes it difficult for people, especially the elderly and those with weak immune systems, to get better. 

At the time, there was no known cure or effective vaccine, which will be important to manage a potential global pandemic.

The authors recommend that more studies in bigger groups of people must be done to find out how exactly the virus infects people, and the symptoms it causes. They do not yet know enough about how the virus could possibly evolve and mutate into other forms, and whether it is possible that it spreads to humans from animals.

MERS has been detected all over the world, including Africa. This review, which was compiled by South African researchers, provided all relevant information about the virus at the fingertips of health researchers and medical practitioners on the continent who might be faced by a single case or an outbreak. It can guide them on how to identify the presence of the disease, how to treat it and to prevent its spread - and in so doing help them to save lives.


Human coronaviruses cause both upper and lower respiratory tract infections in humans. In 2012, a sixth human coronavirus (hCoV) was isolated from a patient presenting with severe respiratory illness. The 60-year-old man died as a result of renal and respiratory failure after admission to a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The aetiological agent was eventually identified as a coronavirus and designated Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). MERS-CoV has now been reported in more than 27 countries across the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and Asia. As of July 2017, 2040 MERS-CoV laboratory confirmed cases, resulting in 712 deaths, were reported globally, with a majority of these cases from the Arabian Peninsula. This review summarises the current understanding of MERS-CoV, with special reference to the (i) genome structure; (ii) clinical features; (iii) diagnosis of infection; and (iv) treatment and vaccine development.


This summary is a free resource intended to make African research and research that affects Africa, more accessible to non-expert global audiences. It was compiled by ScienceLink's team of professional African science communicators as part of the Masakhane MT: Decolonise Science project. ScienceLink has taken every precaution possible during the writing, editing, and fact-checking process to ensure that this summary is easy to read and understand, while accurately reporting on the facts presented in the original research paper. Note, however, that this summary has not been fact-checked or approved by the authors of the original research paper, so this summary should be used as a secondary resource. Therefore, before using, citing or republishing this summary, please verify the information presented with the original authors of the research paper, or email [email protected] for more information.

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