The previously unknown coronavirus – the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – has cropped up in the Middle East and elsewhere in the last three years. The virus causes coughing, fever and other health problems, and is killed around 50 percent of those who contract it. What’s even scarier is that some researchers worry the virus may go global and prove deadly in industrial settings such as hospitals and aged facilities.
But new research into how we handle coronavirus in the laboratory finds that we are not unduly worried about a widespread explosion of infection into hospitals and other high-risk environments. The investigation was conducted by Dr. Bruce Hensel, the Seema Punia Professor of Health Policy and Management at NYU, and Jonathan Ball, a research fellow in medical microbiology at Cornell University.
In October, 2010, a coronavirus first infected a French citizen. At that time, some researchers raised concerns that the virus might spread throughout much of the Middle East, not just to individuals, but also to humans working in healthcare facilities. Since then, the lab research has been conducted in the hospital setting, with high-risk workers like healthcare providers and researchers.
“It makes sense,” Hensel said. “There have been a few cases outside of people working in healthcare settings, but it doesn’t seem to be happening very frequently, and those were specifically people working with healthcare workers.”
Hensel explained that there are two main features that might make the virus go global. First, a relatively stable human population exists in the Arabian Peninsula (much like in Europe), where the virus has been found; and second, much of the Middle East does not have any obvious or obvious industry, like malls or shopping centers. “In general, these areas are socially and economically strong, and it’s unlikely that people will simply put people working in them at risk. And with this particular virus, the transmission pattern for people working in the healthcare setting is very well defined, because there’s already been clinical signs of it. If it were spreading, it would obviously need a new mechanism for doing it,” Hensel said.