particles of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus
Handout transmission electron micrograph shows particles of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS). Photo by Reuters
Text size
related tags

Scientists say they may have found a way to inhibit coronaviruses, of which the latest version is Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, more commonly known as the MERS virus.

MERS has claimed the lives of 193 people across 636 confirmed cases since it was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The newly-discovered compound, K22, was discovered by scientists to inhibit the virus' ability to use the host's cells to reproduce itself. Specifically, the MERS virus, which reproduces in the lining of the respiratory system, uses cells' membranes to shield itself before its starts reproducing. But K22 prevents the virus from taking over these membranes.

The process by which the virus uses the membrane of the host cell is a highly sensitive one, the researchers wrote in their PLOS Pathogens article, and can be influenced by anti-viral medications.

The coronavirus family also includes the common cold and SARS, which caused some 800 deaths in 2003. MERS causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia and reported cases have tripled in the past several weeks. Researchers believe the source for the virus is in the vast camel herds of Saudi Arabia, and nearly all confirmed MERS cases were of people who have recently been to the kingdom or its neighbors.

The approaching month of Ramadan is raising concerns of the spread of the virus, as the numbers of Muslims making the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia's holy sites are expected to rise.