LONDON - The Middle East coronavirus that has killed 40 people since emerging late last year has not yet reached pandemic potential and may simply die out, according to new estimates of how easily it is transmitted.
In a study in The Lancet medical journal, researchers from France's Institut Pasteur in Paris analysed data on Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) clusters and found its likelihood of developing into a SARS-like worldwide epidemic was low.
The MERS coronavirus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, emerged last year and has spread from the Gulf to France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and Britain. The World Health Organisation puts the latest global toll at 40 deaths from a total of 77 laboratory-confirmed cases.
It is related to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, because the virus that causes it is from the same coronavirus family. SARS emerged in China in 2002 and then spread around the world, killing about a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected.
But Arnaud Fontanet, who led the latest published research on MERS, said despite sharing "many clinical, epidemiological, and virological similarities with SARS, the two viruses have distinct biology".
He said one distinction was their use of different receptors to infect cells in human airways - a key factor in how easily a virus is passed from person to person.