Monday, June 3, 2013

CNN opines on why the new MERS coronavirus is so frightening

CNN has an important perspective on the new MERS-CoV (coronavirus) and why it is so “scary”, link here. Today, there was also a report on three cases in Italy.

One of the reasons is that the virus tends to stimulate a devastating overreaction in the immune system, much as did Spanish flu in 1918.

Another concern is that the virus could reach camps housing refugees from the civil war in Syria.

Another oddity so far is that, apparently, all of the fatalities have been men, although that may not continue.
There is a great irony to all of this, in a historical sense.  In the mid 1980s, the extreme right wing in the US was spreading theories that HIV had been “amplified” by the gay male community and would mutate and become casually contagious.  If it did, it would probably change character.

But in the 21st Century, there is renewed concern of viruses that normally are understood to be transmitted in the air or by “routine close contact” or “close household contact”.   (In 1983, Anthony Fauci at NIH had made such a speculation about AIDS before HIV was identified, according to Randy Shilts’s book “And the Band Played On”;  it was later discredited) .   

With most infectious diseases, the public builds up immunity by gradual exposure, as most people overcome infections.  But this is not possible if a disease kills a large percentage of those infected.  So if this disease is “casually transmitted”, draconian social distancing (and quarantine) is the only way to control it until a vaccine is possible. 

There is no vaccine for SARS or MERS yet, but a good question would be, how hard would it be to develop one quickly?  The animal reservoir, which may be bats, is not certain (or whether there are secondary reservoirs).  

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