Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Researchers wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious Disease that they have detected a virus in the feces of a South African bat that is more genetically similar to Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) than any other known virus.
The scientists believe their findings indicate that African bats may have played a role in the evolution of MERS-CoV predecessor viruses, which has killed nearly half the people who have been infected with it since its discovery in 2012.
MERS-CoV has been diagnosed in 90 patients so far, almost 50 of whom have died. Infected patients can develop pneumonia and acute kidney failure, while other symptoms can involve fever, coughing and respiratory problems. So far, all confirmed cases have been connected with the Arabian peninsula, and a group of collaborators wanted to set out to find the source.
Scientists tested fecal material from a bat of the species Neoromicia zuluensis and found a virus that is genetically more closely related to MERS-CoV than any other known virus. They believe this virus could have originally come from a bat that may have reached the human population through other animals that acted as intermediate hosts.
The finding was made in one individual bat, but serves as an important pointer when searching for the origin of MERS-CoV. The scientists said the work is important in searching for treatment because once the origin is pinpointed, the risk to humans can be minimized.
More studies of bats and potential interim hosts are needed in order to confirm the origin of MERS-CoV. The researchers pointed out that finding a closely related virus in a bat does not mean that human beings can become infected directly through exposure to the animal.
It is likely, the team said, that bats are the natural hosts for the virus, and that human infections are the result of contact with other animals such as camels which act as intermediate hosts.
Just weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported three new additional confirmed cases of MERS-CoV. The newest cases are a 69-year-old male and a 66-year-old male from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Both were admitted to the hospital on June 28 and are listed as being in critical condition in the ICU.
WHO conducted an Emergency Committee meeting under the International Health Regulations for MERS-CoV on July 9 through 11.