In a research paper published Tuesday on the American Society of Microbiology website, World Health Origination (WHO) scientists are suggesting that the deadly MERS virus may have gone airborne.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 that has a mortality rate of 30%. There have been 836 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection since its first appearance in 2012, and at least 288 deaths. Prior to this week’s announcement, the virus was mainly limited to healthcare workers who had extremely close contact with infected patients.
According to CNN, Researchers from King Fahd Medical Research Center in Saudi Arabia collected three air samples from a camel barn where an infected worker was thought to have caught the virus from a camel. After analyzing the air sample, the scientists found one strain of MERS RNA, the viral genome.
The barn air tested positive for MERS on the exact same day that one of the nine camels in the barn tested positive for MERS. “These data show evidence for the presence of the airborne MERS in the same barn that was owned by the patient and sheltered the infected camels,” the study authors write.
News that the virus may have gone airborne is especially troubling, considering that even before the virus was thought to be airborne, the Director of the World Health Organization was already calling it a “threat to the entire world.”
WHO is now recommending that healthcare workers immediately start implementing “airborne precautions” when treating anyone suspected of having the MERS virus. WHO is working to figure out exactly how the virus is transmitted and how easily it can be transmitted if it has indeed gone airborne.