An Engineer's Guide to MERS Virus

Sayyy watttt??
If there’s one thing that has dominated dinner table conversations in the past few days, it’s the MERS virus also known as the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome also termed as MERS-CoV. As far as all of the viruses that I can remember such as the deadly Ebola, SARS or even Syphilis, I don’t think I have ever encountered a virus that was actually named after a specific region.

And there’s a reason why.

When the virus broke loose and started showing its fatal side in 2012 in the middle east, scientists, biologists and doctors didn’t have shit clue where the source of the virus was...and for a very long time. What they did was basically round up every animal in the region and quarantined them and then finally found out that it was it was our one humped camel, the Dromedary, who was most likely to have affected humans.

In a recent discussion in research gate, a paper on Camel-to-Human Transmission of MERS Coronavirus that was published in New England Journal of Medicine, 2014, suggests “good evidence” that MERS CoV can be transmitted from Dromedaries to humans.

Rick Speare from Tropical Health Solutions Ptv. Ltd states:
“Antiboides to MERS CoV are very common in camels on the Arabian Peninsula and several countries in north Africa. The virus has also been detected in camels and humans with MERS. There are also several case reports linking humans with MERS and camels epidemiologically and through genetics of the virus.”

If you are not bored enough already, here’s the paper: [HERE]

So why has this Middle Eastern named virus now a talking point amongst people here in Seoul? Well, the death toll has already doubled in the last two days presumably because of the MERS virus itself. Notice that I used presumably because these patients already had respiratory ailments before and the virus could have just exacerbated the condition. It’s is highly likely that both played an equal role in those deaths.

The irony of this story is that the virus seems to have been spreading in the hospitals, the same places where people expect themselves to be cured. In a strange twist, the government decided that it was fun to not to let the public know where exactly these hospitals are located and what their names are. This has caused both a media and social-media frenzy amongst the citizens here.

What better way to handle spreading of rumors eh?

Understandably, people are pissed with how the government has been handling the situation. Some of the measure they have in place is quarantining camels in zoo (and not just our single humped friend), asking people not to ride on camels or even eat their meat or drink their urine. BRAVO!

On Seoul National University’s online media site SNUlife, one student expressed his displeasure that the government didn’t allow him to ride on his pet camel to school and the other remarked that he feels very safe that he didn’t see any camels riding the subway.

By now you shall have noticed that the virus has been taken very, very seriously.

One thing we humans are good at is that we recognize patterns. That’s how we learn and avoid mistakes and become intelligible. If you look the patients who have constricted the disease and died have all been people who had already weakened immune system and were at age where recovery was near impossibility.

This is where it gets tricky. The disease is communicable yes, and it is transmitted through saliva. So in case someone in the a crowded bus or crowded subway sneezes, it’s likely that the sneezed particles you inhale or come in contact through your skin will transmit the virus in you; if that is the person is infected. Even if the person is in the incubation period (period where he hasn’t yet shown signs of symptoms like fever and cough), it is likely that the virus will transmit.

What I mean here is that even if we do inhale or exhale or whatever, given that we are properly sanitized and masked, there should be no fatality (normal heathy 20-40s). What worries me is the way it has been portrayed as a disease that has a fatality rate of 30% to 40% when in fact it largely skews from the condition that your immune should have been significantly weakened in the first place.

Listen, don’t call me cynical. I not saying that it is OK get such a un curable virus and get sick, No. I am largely looking at binaries here; 0 for death 1 for living. I am just saying that if you are a normal healthy human being, it is likely that we will etch on the side of 1.

Clearly, this virus will take time to contain and eliminate but till then, our best option would be to continue what we are doing and sanitize and wash and isolate (mask) till things become normal and not panic like I did yesterday.

Yep that’s the sensible thing to do. 


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