COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Interhuman transmissibility of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus: estimation of pandemic risk

Romulus Breban, Julien Riou, Arnaud Fontanet
Lancet 2013 August 24, 382 (9893): 694-9
23831141

BACKGROUND: The new Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection shares many clinical, epidemiological, and virological similarities with that of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV. We aimed to estimate virus transmissibility and the epidemic potential of MERS-CoV, and to compare the results with similar findings obtained for prepandemic SARS.

METHODS: We retrieved data for MERS-CoV clusters from the WHO summary and subsequent reports, and published descriptions of cases, and took into account 55 of the 64 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV reported as of June 21, 2013, excluding cases notified in the previous 2 weeks. To assess the interhuman transmissibility of MERS-CoV, we used Bayesian analysis to estimate the basic reproduction number (R0) and compared it to that of prepandemic SARS. We considered two scenarios, depending on the interpretation of the MERS-CoV cluster-size data.

RESULTS: With our most pessimistic scenario (scenario 2), we estimated MERS-CoV R0 to be 0·69 (95% CI 0·50-0·92); by contrast, the R0 for prepandemic SARS-CoV was 0·80 (0·54-1·13). Our optimistic scenario (scenario 1) yielded a MERS-CoV R0 of 0·60 (0·42-0·80). Because of recent implementation of effective contact tracing and isolation procedures, further MERS-CoV transmission data might no longer describe an entire cluster, but only secondary infections directly caused by the index patient. Hence, we calculated that, under scenario 2, eight or more secondary infections caused by the next index patient would translate into a 5% or higher chance that the revised MERS-CoV R0 would exceed 1--ie, that MERS-CoV might have pandemic potential.

INTERPRETATION: Our analysis suggests that MERS-CoV does not yet have pandemic potential. We recommend enhanced surveillance, active contact tracing, and vigorous searches for the MERS-CoV animal hosts and transmission routes to human beings.

FUNDING: Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Labex Integrative Biology of Emerging Infectious Diseases), and the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme project PREDEMICS.

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