Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus is extraordinarily infectious, the dominant strains at this time do not have a significant mortality rate.
That being said, the MERS-CoV, a very fatal but not particularly infectious member of the betacoronavirus family of diseases, is its considerably less common relative.
Imagine combining the two to create a respiratory virus that possesses the most harmful aspects of both – both infectious and fatal!
According to recent research from China, it’s a genuine risk. It also makes a compelling case for a new vaccination that is more broadly effective.
Through a process known as “recombination,” several viruses from related families can unite to create hybrids known as “recombinants.”
The viruses must share an infecting mechanism in order for this recombination to occur.
For the first time, a group of Chinese researchers has discovered the method through which SARS and MERS might coexist in human cells by entering through shared receptors.
We might be dealing with a brand-new pandemic that could be much worse than the present COVID-19 pandemic if a single individual ever contracts both SARS and MERS at the same time and the viruses manage to merge.
But there is some good news as well! Apparently, universal vaccinations are being created that could tackle a variety of different viruses and their combinations at once.
The bad news is that they have a long way to go – possibly years – before conducting extensive human studies, and much further before receiving regulatory permission and being widely available.
The possibility of SARS-MERS recombination was emphasized in a peer-reviewed paper by a group led by virologist Qiao Wang.
Wang and co-authors noted that SARS-CoV-2 prefers the ACE2 receptor while MERS-CoV prefers the DPP4 receptor.
One or the other, but not both, is more common in our cells.
The viruses should remain safe in their respective cells in the extremely unusual event that someone contracts both SARS and MERS at the same time.
However, Wang and the rest of the team discovered a small number of cell types with both ACE2 and DPP4 receptors in the lungs and intestines, “offering a potential for co-infection by both SARS-CoV-2 and MERS-CoV.”
Wang and his coworkers warned that the new virus “may exhibit significant SARS-CoV-2-like transmissibility together with a high case-fatality rate, which would have devastating ramifications.”
The XBB subvariants, sometimes known as “Kraken,” are the most infectious forms of SARS-CoV-2 and are by far the most transmittable respiratory virus ever seen.
Kraken, however, is a less lethal strain of SARS-CoV-2 than prior varieties.
Natural immunity and vaccinations both significantly reduce the severity of the novel coronavirus, but there are also indications that it is gradually developing toward greater transmissibility.
In the worst-affected nations, such as Mexico and Peru, COVID killed roughly 5% of afflicted people at its worst in 2021. The current worldwide mortality rate is about 0.9%.
MERS spreads significantly more slowly, in comparison. When it affects people, it typically happens when they come into touch with infected animals close up.
Transmission from person to person is quite uncommon. The World Health Organization stated that “just a few such transmissions have been identified among family members living in the same household.”
Less than 900 individuals have died of MERS in 27 minor outbreaks since 2012. In contrast, 6.9 million individuals have passed away from SARS-CoV-2 since 2019. The issue with MERS is that a third of infections—roughly 900 deaths—were caused by it. In other words, MERS is at least 6 times more deadly than SARS was at its worst.
Scientists are calling for a universal vaccine after a Chinese study warned COVID could combine with the super-lethal MERS virus.https://t.co/DRiQ9VnfSJ
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) April 3, 2023
Therefore, if a SARS-MERS recombinant acquired both the transmissibility and the lethality of the two diseases, it might swiftly kill millions of people. For this reason, Wang and his co-authors are “pushing for the creation of a pan-CoV vaccination.”
COVID researcher Lihong Liu told The Daily Beast that “The lifecycle of a virus is delicate and a recombination between different viruses is typically uncommon. We haven’t seen any recombination between SARS-CoV-2 and MERS during the COVID pandemic, despite millions of SARS-CoV-2 infections worldwide. Therefore, it’s expected that such an event is unlikely to occur in the future.”