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April 28, 2014

Antibodies Show Promise Blocking MERS Infection

by VOA News

Lab tests have identified human immune system components that appear to block the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Infections have risen sharply in recent weeks, not just in the Middle East, but in Malaysia and the Philippines, with more than 100 deaths reported since the disease was first identified in late 2012.

MERS has a 30 to 40 percent mortality rate.

Researchers at universities in China and Hong Kong — Tsinghua University, Sichuan University, The University of Hong Kong — found that two antibodies, called MERS-4 and MERS-27, prevent a protein on the MERS virus from interacting with a cellular receptor. This keeps the virus from entering and infecting the cell.

The results, published in Science Translational Medicine, suggest that these antibodies could be part of a vaccine or therapy, but further tests in animals, and humans, will be necessary.

The disease is believed to have crossed to humans from camels. MERS belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that includes SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which in 2003 killed 800 people in a global outbreak.    

There is no vaccine or treatment for the MERS virus, and doctors are not sure how it is transmitted.