Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to several other countries. Most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath; many of them died. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV), also a severe viral respiratory illness, was first reported in Asia in February 2003 and spread to dozens of countries before being contained. Since 2004, there have been no known SARS cases. Both MERS and SARS belong to a family of viruses called coronaviruses.
Why Is the Study of MERS and SARS a Priority for NIAID?
In 2003, a novel coronavirus emerged from China and swept across the globe, causing deadly illness. More than 8,000 people fell ill with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and 774 died. The SARS coronavirus drew the collective focus of researchers throughout the world, but the disease disappeared quickly. No cases of SARS have been reported since 2004. In 2012, a new coronavirus emerged, causing an illness similar to SARS. Again, researchers at NIAID and across the globe have initiated studies to understand the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)—and how to stop it.
How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?
Although a case of SARS has not been documented since 2004, NIAID continues to support more than a dozen research projects on this coronavirus throughout the United States, because the knowledge can be applied to other studies. Those studies include developing SARS treatments, a vaccine, and a better understanding of how the virus interacts with the immune system.
When MERS-CoV emerged in 2012, NIAID intramural and extramural scientists mobilized quickly to research the virus. Key areas of investigation include basic research on where MERS-CoV comes from and how it causes disease, the development of animal models to study the virus, and the development of treatments and vaccines.