NewsHealthHealthcare / May 6, 2014

MERS Expert Weighs In On Similarity To SARS

Sam Klemet
MERS Expert Weighs In On Similarity To SARS

A Saudi Arabian man continues to recover from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, at Community Hospital in Munster.

It’s the first known case of the disease in the United States, but scientists are using the outbreak of another disease a decade ago to better understand MERS.

Mark Denison is a professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology at Vanderbilt University and has studied world viruses for almost 30 years.

He says MERS is similar to SARS, which spread to 32 countries between 2002 and 2003 killing 775 people.

"MERS is demonstrating some of those characteristics in terms of this sustained, low-level epidemic," he said.  "We can't assume that they are not serious when they emerge as new viruses in humans."

MERS and SARS come from the same family, but Denison believes it’s unlikely MERS will spread widely.

"Over two years there are only 400 cases (the World Health Organization confirms 261) and those have been localized to one particular area," he said.  "So, that by itself argues that the virus is not very good, yet, at moving between humans in a sustained way a part from the environment where the virus emerged."

Since MERS emerged, Denison says there has been a lot of progress in understanding its movement and origins.  But, he says researchers still need more data.

"The kinds of information about the severity, the long term outcomes, that data is not as widely reported as it was for SARS," said Denison.  "So, it's a bit of a challenge to really understand what the breath of the epidemic is, what the exposures are for health care workers, what the exposures are for other people."

Health officials say about 30 percent of those infected with MERS die from the disease.

The man being treated at Community Hospital is said to be in good condition and doctors believe he will be released soon.