Estimation of basic reproduction number of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) during the outbreak in South Korea, 2015.Biomed Eng Online. 2017 Jun 13; 16(1):79.BE
In South Korea, an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) occurred in 2015. It was the second largest MERS outbreak. As a result of the outbreak in South Korea, 186 infections were reported, and 36 patients died. At least 16,693 people were isolated with suspicious symptoms. This paper estimates the basic reproduction number of the MERS coronavirus (CoV), using data on the spread of MERS in South Korea.
The basic reproduction number of an epidemic is defined as the average number of secondary cases that an infected subject produces over its infectious period in a susceptible and uninfected population. To estimate the basic reproduction number of the MERS-CoV, we employ data from the 2015 South Korea MERS outbreak and the susceptible-infected-removed (SIR) model, a mathematical model that uses a set of ordinary differential equations (ODEs).
We fit the model to the epidemic data of the South Korea outbreak minimizing the sum of the squared errors to identify model parameters. Also we derive the basic reproductive number as the terms of the parameters of the SIR model. Then we determine the basic reproduction number of the MERS-CoV in South Korea in 2015 as 8.0977. It is worth comparing with the basic reproductive number of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa including Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, which had values of 1.5-2.5.
There was no intervention to control the infection in the early phase of the outbreak, thus the data used here provide the best conditions to evaluate the epidemic characteristics of MERS, such as the basic reproduction number. An evaluation of basic reproduction number using epidemic data could be problematic if there are stochastic fluctuations in the early phase of the outbreak, or if the report is not accurate and there is bias in the data. Such problems are not relevant to this study because the data used here were precisely reported and verified by Korea Hospital Association.