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Researchers Continue To Search For MERS Origins; Health Officials Prepare For Muslim Pilgrimage

“Genetic analysis of samples of the [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)] that has killed 58 people in the Middle East and Europe shows the disease has jumped from animals to humans several times, scientists said on Friday,” Reuters reports. “While the findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, cannot help scientists predict how likely MERS is to become more easily transmissible in people — and how likely to cause a human pandemic — they should help health experts develop more effective infection control measures to limit its spread,” the news agency writes. “Two mass gathering events attracting over eight million pilgrims have occurred in Mecca, Saudi Arabia since the discovery of MERS-CoV 12 months ago — the annual haj in October 2012 and the July 2013 Ramadan Umrah season — and yet no MERS-CoV cases have been reported from these events to date,” Ali Zumla, a professor of infectious diseases at University College London and co-author of the study, said, according to the news agency (Kelland, 9/19).

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish said, “We want to know where this virus is coming from and we want to know the method of transmission and we want to know how to prevent the disease from spreading. … We will continue collaborating with WHO (and other leading international health institutions) in trying to find the source of the virus and how it spreads” (Knickmeyer, 9/19). “Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 130 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 58 deaths,” a WHO press release notes (9/20).