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Published On: Wed, Aug 21st, 2013

MERS coronavirus found in bat near site of first Saudi Arabia case, genetically identical to virus found in that case

Just a couple of weeks after Netherlands scientists have found antibodies to the  Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in some Dromedary camels, investigators from the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, et.al., have discovered a 100% genetic match for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in an insect-eating bat in close proximity to the first known case of the disease in Saudi Arabia.

 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Image/CDC

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
Image/CDC

The study, by researchers from CII, EcoHealth Alliance, and the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the first to search for an animal reservoir for MERS in Saudi Arabia, and the first to identify such a reservoir by finding a genetic match in an animal, according to a Mailman School news release.

The study appears online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“There have been several reports of finding MERS-like viruses in animals. None were a genetic match. In this case we have a virus in an animal that is identical in sequence to the virus found in the first human case. Importantly, it’s coming from the vicinity of that first case,” says W. Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and a co-author of the study.

Over a six-week period during field expeditions in October 2012 and April 2013, the researchers collected more than 1,000 samples from seven bat species in regions where cases of MERS were identified in Bisha, Unaizah, and Riyadh.

Extensive analysis was performed using polymerase chain reaction and DNA sequencing revealed the presence of a wide range of alpha and beta coronaviruses in up to a third of bat samples. One fecal sample from an Egyptian Tomb Bat (Taphozous perforatus) collected within a few kilometers of the first known MERS victim’s home contained sequences of a virus identical to those recovered from the victim.

“There is no evidence of direct exposure to bats in the majority of human cases of MERS,” says Ziad Memish, MD, Deputy Minister of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and lead author of the study. “Given that human-to-human transmission is inefficient, we speculate that an as-yet-to-be determined intermediate host plays a critical role in human disease.”

“We are continuing to look for evidence of the virus in wildlife and domestic animals, and investigating the mechanisms by which the virus causes human disease,” adds Dr. Lipkin. “This is but the first chapter in a powerful collaboration amongst partners committed to global public health.”

To date, the unofficial global total of MERS-CoV cases is 97, with 47 cases ending in death.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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  1. MERS-CoV found in bat; hunt for other sources goes on | Family Survival Protocol - Microcosm News says:

    […] MERS coronavirus found in bat near site of first Saudi Arabia case, genetically identical to virus f… […]

  2. Saudis cite 2 more MERS cases; Italian cluster profiled | Family Survival Protocol - Microcosm News says:

    […] MERS coronavirus found in bat near site of first Saudi Arabia case, genetically identical to virus f… […]

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