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Toward Stopping the Spread of MERS

As experts warn that health-care facilities are “the perfect breeding ground” for transmission of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, scientists identify a potential therapeutic target.

By | January 30, 2014

MERS coronavirusNIAIDUsing X-ray crystallography, researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai have identified two peptides from the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that hint at the deadly pathogen’s ability to enter host cells via membrane fusion. They’ve also found that one of those peptides, called HR2P, can effectively inhibit MERS-CoV replication and fusion, such that “HR2P analogues have good potential to be further developed into effective viral fusion inhibitors for treating MERS-CoV infection,” the researchers reported in Nature Communications this week (January 28).

Both peptides are both part of the six-helix bundle fusion core structure of the MERS-CoV spike protein S2 subunit, through which viral and cell membranes can meet and fuse, releasing the viral genetic materials into the host cell cytoplasm.

In its paper, the Fudan team noted that the reported possibility of person-to-person transmission of the MERS-CoV points to its pandemic potential. Meanwhile, investigators from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine warned in an Annals of Internal Medicine editorial published the same day that “the concentration of vulnerable patients, the frequent movement of patients, and the many daily contacts make health-care facilities the perfect breeding ground for MERS-CoV transmission.” The authors, all of whom visited Saudi Arabia last year to investigate the MERS-CoV outbreak at an Al-Ahsa hospital, added that “focus on the health-care setting may prevent continued human-to-human transmission among at-risk patients.”

Since September 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) has counted 180 lab-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection worldwide, including 77 deaths. “MERS-CoV infections that may be acquired in health-care facilities illustrate the need to continue to strengthen infection prevention and control measures,” the WHO noted in its January 27 MERS-CoV update. “Health-care facilities that provide care for patients suspected or confirmed with MERS-CoV infection should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission of the virus to other patients, health care workers and visitors.”

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