The Mystery of MERS

Since it was first picked up 3 years ago, MERS-Coronavirus has gone global. During my short trip to the Philippines, I don full protective gear as I’m given the chance to see suspected cases up close and personal. We still don’t know where it came from, nor do we have any medicines to treat it. 

The Philippine shores were first breached several months ago and since then, confirmed or suspected MERS cases have rolled in slowly. On a brief visit to a discreet clinic during my short break to the tropics, I am taken behind the scenes, with full precautionary measures, to view how Infectious Disease Physicians work to treat such rare patients.

For the record, I was 100% not exposed. And also, for the record, I’m giving no clues away as to where the patients came from and whom they may be. But having thought about zoonotic crossover events and the molecular science and theories from the armchair for so long, it dawned on me that this was my first time to observe the care administered for a novel pathogen with probable zoonotic origin which has sparked global health concern. As a medical student, it’s both an honour and a tragedy.

Our intimate connection with wildlife is highlighted once again, given that camels and bats in the Middle East (hence the name, Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome) are implicated as the natural viral reservoir. Mysteriously, we have seen seropositive camels in the region but have only managed to isolate viruses from a single dromedary camel (correct me if I’m wrong). The story is even stranger for bats, with many scientists unconvinced they are a reservoir at all. What’s the connection? What were the drivers for disease emergence in this instance? Why are we still unable to isolate the virus from other suspected reservoirs?

Environment. Animal Health. Human Health. Tropical Medicine finds itself at the intersect – and there’s questions to be answered.

 

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The featured image is from meeting the passionate staff at the National TB Reference Laboratory for the Philippines, also during my short trip.

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