The effective detection of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus will not become a reality for several years and requires the collaborative efforts of many arms of science working towards a singular purpose, says an analyst with research and consulting firm GlobalData.
Andrew S. Thompson, Ph.D., GlobalData's Senior Analyst covering In vitro Diagnostics, states that flawed equipment, the lack of technology for accurately detecting viral particles in breath and the narrow window of MERS sufferers for shedding viral particles are the most significant obstacles to successful airport scanning for MERS.
Thompson states: "The ineffectiveness of infra-red thermal imaging for detecting infected passengers at airports has been well documented. While scanners have been reasonably successful at identifying feverish symptoms, they perform poorly in attempts to specifically identify passengers with influenza. It has also been reported that the use of common medications, such as aspirin, can reduce a patient's fever and allow them to evade the scanner."
However, the analyst states that despite the shortage of available technologies, there are some prospects on the horizon.
"A promising approach is through the use of silicone nanowires, where a protein or DNA biomarker is detected electronically, rather than through optical means. Such extremely sensitive techniques, when combined with a suitable means to collect the breath of passengers, could provide a more targeted method to detect recently infected carriers of the MERS virus," explains Thompson.
However, even if silicone nanowires were introduced, there would remain the issue of passengers exhaling a particle that can be linked directly to the pathogen, such as viral particles. So far, tests have shown that the window for viral particle shedding in patients infected by MERS is frustratingly narrow.
Thompson concludes: "The incomplete understanding of respiratory virus infectiousness, aligned with the manifold limitations of scanning technology, means that the real-world identification of pathogens has seen little progress since the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002."