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MERS-CoV Discovered in Saudi Arabian Bat

Update Date: Aug 22, 2013 09:33 AM EDT

The MERS-CoV (Middle Eastern Respiratory syndrome coronavirus), which was first identified late last year, has infected 94 people and caused 47 fatalities. Like any virus, researchers have been studying MERS-CoV to better understand how the virus spreads and how deadly it could be. In one study published in The Lancet, researchers believe that dromedary camels were hosts to the virus before it spread to humans. In a new study, researchers believe that the deadly MERS-CoV could have actually started in tomb bats.

For this study, the international team of researchers collected fecal matter from October 2012 to April 2013that belonged to the Egyptian tomb bat, also called the Taphozous perforates. In one sample out of about 100 that was collected near the home of the first MERS victim, the researchers identified the virus. This sample was a 100 percent match to the victim's MERS-CoV. Discovering an identical match in virology between humans and animals is often unheard of.

"In this case we have a virus in an animal that is identical in sequence to the virus found in the first human case," Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, the head of Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity and co-author of the study, said reported by BBC News.

Even though the tomb bat might have hosted the virus, the researchers believe that it is highly unlikely that the bats transferred the virus directly to humans because bats do not normally bite or come into contact with humans. The researchers reasoned that the bat could have transferred the virus to other animals, such as pigs, that then gave the virus to humans.

The bat in question was discovered in the small city of Bisha. Bisha was home to the first MERS-CoV case in a 60-year-old businessman. The man had a large paint warehouse with a garden full of fruit trees, which most likely attracted these types of bats. The man also owned four pet camels. He fell ill in mid-June and died within two weeks.

The research team has already done 15,000 polymerase chain reaction tests to look for other hosts of the virus, hoping to track its movements. The team is still testing camels, sheep, goats and one cow according to Lipkin,

The findings were published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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