Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Debating A Controversial MERS Paper


Coronavirus – Credit CDC PHIL


# 8891


Last week, Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at UNSW, published a paper called The discrepant epidemiology of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), where she suggested that the unusual patterns of the MERS coronavirus outbreaks  might  indicate deliberate human release.


Professor MacIntyre went on to explain why a bio terror source ought to be at least considered in  MERS coronavirus: animal source or deliberate release?, published last week in The Conversation.


While best known for her work in respiratory virus transmission studies, over the past year we’ve looked at research from Dr. MacIntyre looking at whether the Flu Vaccine May Reduce Heart Attack Risk and just last month she and co-author Lauren M Gardner looked at some of the paradoxes presented by the MERS coronavirus. (see BMC Research Notes: Unanswered Questions About MERS-CoV.)


Dr. MacIntyre’s  latest paper, however, has been greeted with a good deal of skepticism, particularly among researchers and virologists, both on twitter, and in the media (see CIDRAP News Report).  


Today, a sextet of scientists and researchers – including well known infectious disease bloggers Dr. Ian Mackay and Maia Majumder - provide a rebuttal to Professor MacIntyre’s controversial hypothesis. Joining them are Dr.  Lisa Murillo from Los Alamos, Dr.  Katherine Arden from the University of Queensland, Dr. Nicholas G. Evans and Stephen Goldstein, both from the University of Pennsylvania.


Follow the link below to read their rationale, as published in The Conversation,  in its entirety.



30 July 2014, 5.40am BST

Middle East respiratory virus came from camels, not terrorists

When you hear hooves, shout camel, not bioterrorist. Delpixel/Flickr

The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a tiny, spiky package of fat, proteins and genes that was first found in a dying man in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012.


Since then, we have learnt a little more about the virus. We know that nearly 90% of infections have originated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is lethal in about a third of known cases, most of whom are older males, often with one or more pre-existing diseases of the heart, lung or kidney. So far it has claimed nearly 300 lives.


Camels have emerged as the most likely source of human MERS-CoV infections. In fact, blood samples collected between 1992 and 2013 show camels have been fighting MERS-CoV for at least 20 years.


But, in an unusual twist, research published last week calls on us to seriously consider, or at least acknowledge, that bioterrorism might explain the emergence of MERS-CoV in people. Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at UNSW Australia, suggests that “deliberate release” may explain the paradoxical pattern of ongoing MERS-CoV infections.

(Continue . . .)


Although one can never totally eliminate the possibility that there is a human hand behind the spread of MERS, I confess that after reading Dr. MacIntyre’s paper last week,  I came away far less than convinced.  


While I briefly considered blogging the story, I saw that it had already been covered by CIDRAP News, and was being heartily debated on Twitter, and decided there was little of substance I could add.

A decision I’m glad of now, since others (far more qualified than myself) have now weighed in on the issue.   

No comments: