MERS continues to persist in Saudi Arabia .
MERS continues to persist in Saudi Arabia .

With Ebola catching all of the big headlines and news for the past few weeks, it is easy to forget that there are lots of other interesting bugs, infections, viruses, bacteria and other bad guys out there!

Remember MERS?!?!?! Oh right! MERS! Well, as a matter of fact, an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this past spring appears to have been largely transmitted through human-to-human contact in hospitals. Yikes!

In a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers sought to identify the cause of a sudden increase in MERS infections in Jeddah earlier this year. Hypotheses were formulated to explain the outbreak pattern, and included the following: increased zoonotic transmission, nosocomial transmission, increased surveillance, changes in viral transmissibility and diagnostic laboratory artifacts.

The researchers analyzed diagnostic information gleaned from Jeddah Regional Laboratory, including virus samples from the Jeddah outbreak and viruses occurring simultaneously in Riyadh, Al-Kharj, and Madinah. The researchers partially or fully sequenced the viruses, and a set of four single nucleotide polymorphisms unique to the Jeddah outbreak were identified. Viruses from Jeddah and Riyadh were isolated and evaluated in cell culture.

Of the 168 samples that tested positive from the Jeddah outbreak, 49% could be traced back to King Fahd Hospital. Viruses from Jeddah were found to be monophyletic (or group of organisms descended from a single ancestor). The viruses from Riyadh however were paraphyletic (all the descendants of the last common ancestor). Oh my!

The researchers concluded that their investigations suggested the prevalence of human-to-human transmission during the Jeddah outbreak without evidence for modification of viral shedding, replication, and immune escape. Double yikes!