MERS Virus Could Be Battled With Drug Cocktail

Melissa Stusinski - Author

Sep. 9 2013, Updated 10:54 a.m. ET

The MERS virus plaguing the Middle East could be battled by a drug cocktail made from two well-known anti-viral drugs. The combination protects monkeys from MERS and could also protect humans.

MERS, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, has infected at least 108 people since it emerged in 2012. Of those, 50 cases have been fatal.

There is currently no recommended treatment for the debilitating virus, reports The New York Times. However, there is hope after the new drug combination was discovered.

Researchers with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseased gave the drugs, interferon and ribavirin, to half of six monkeys eight hours after they were infected with the MERS virus.

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Three of the monkeys who received the drug cocktail had minimal X-ray evidence of pneumonia. In contrast, the untreated animals became very sick.

While the drug combination could help patients when given soon after infection, the deputy health minister of Saudi Arabia stated that doctors there had limited success with it.

UPI notes that Dr. Ziad A. Memish explained doctors tried the drug cocktail on MERS patients, but they were likely treated too late. He said that the study did still have hope, adding, “This is great news and much-needed information, although it’s very preliminary.”

Saudi Arabia has seen most of the known MERS cases. Dr. Memish added that Saudi doctors tried the drugs because an article in the International Journal of Infections Diseases mentioned that it helped during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

The ribavirin/interferon cocktail is already in use on people with chronic hepatitis C. However, it has side effects. While interferon is known to cause sleeplessness and depress, ribavirin is toxic to white and blood cells. If given for a long time, ribavirin can be dangerous.

The MERS virus was only isolated last year. As such, it is possible there were cases in previous years that weren’t recognized. Scientists believe the deadly virus originated in bats.

[Image via ShutterStock]


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