Public health professor receives $2.5 million to study respiratory virus

A public health professor received a $2.5 million grant to study the causes of the virus known as Middle East respiratory syndrome, according to a release from the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Amira Roess, an assistant professor of global health and a principal investigator of the project, plans to examine the disease, the animals that carry it and how it is spread. The grant was provided by the National Science Foundation, according to the release.

“We hope to develop a sophisticated mathematical model that could be used to predict the next outbreak of MERS or other coronaviruses,” Roess said in the release. “Such a model might also be used to help identify and stop an emerging outbreak in its tracks.”

MERS is an illness that surfaced in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is spread through contact, animals or the air. The disease kills about four in 10 people who contract the disease and, since 2012, there have been cases in nearly 20 countries, including the United States, according to the release.

The study will continue for the next four years, and Roess plans to work with a team of experts from GW and six other institutions. The experts will include veterinarians and wildlife biologists, the release states.

Roess said the team plans to conduct a study in Ethiopia and focus on the spread of the virus through camels.

“Ideally, this model could be used to study other livestock or zoonotic diseases that are poorly understood and, in the end, could lead to interventions that might save lives,” Roess said.

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