Comparative and kinetic analysis of viral shedding and immunological responses in MERS patients representing a broad spectrum of disease severity

Sci Rep. 2016 May 5:6:25359. doi: 10.1038/srep25359.


Despite the ongoing spread of MERS, there is limited knowledge of the factors affecting its severity and outcomes. We analyzed clinical data and specimens from fourteen MERS patients treated in a hospital who collectively represent a wide spectrum of disease severity, ranging from mild febrile illness to fatal pneumonia, and classified the patients into four groups based on severity and mortality. Comparative and kinetic analyses revealed that high viral loads, weak antibody responses, and lymphopenia accompanying thrombocytopenia were associated with disease mortality, whereas persistent and gradual increases in lymphocyte responses might be required for effective immunity against MERS-CoV infection. Leukocytosis, primarily due to increased neutrophils and monocytes, was generally observed in more severe and fatal cases. The blood levels of cytokines such as IL-10, IL-15, TGF-β, and EGF were either positively or negatively correlated with disease mortality. Robust induction of various chemokines with differential kinetics was more prominent in patients that recovered from pneumonia than in patients with mild febrile illness or deceased patients. The correlation of the virological and immunological responses with disease severity and mortality, as well as their responses to current antiviral therapy, may have prognostic significance during the early phase of MERS.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Leukocytosis / etiology*
  • Leukocytosis / mortality
  • Lymphopenia / etiology*
  • Lymphopenia / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / physiology*
  • Pneumonia / etiology
  • Pneumonia / mortality
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Thrombocytopenia / etiology*
  • Thrombocytopenia / mortality
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Shedding


  • Cytokines
  • Epidermal Growth Factor