MERS-CoV found in bat; hunt for other sources goes on

Thursday, August 22, 2013
By Paul Martin

Robert Roos
Aug 21, 2013

Scientists reported today that they found strong evidence of the MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in a bat from Saudi Arabia, suggesting that, as suspected, bats are the virus’s natural reservoir.

But the hunt for an intermediate vehicle—animal, food, or something else—that channels the virus from bats to humans will continue, said Ziad Memish, MD, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for public health, during a webinar from Pittsburgh today.

“I think we suspected from day 1 that bats had something to do with this,” said Memish, the first author of the report on the bat finding. “It was important to document the bats. . . . We’ll continue to try to find the relationship between bats and humans. There must be something in the middle.”

Writing in Emerging infectious Diseases, Memish and colleagues said a fragment of a coronavirus found in a fecal sample from an Egyptian tomb bat (Taphozous perforatus) was a 100% match for MERS-CoV. The sample was collected just a few kilometers from the home of one of the first MERS victims.

The research team included scientists from Columbia University and the EcoHealth Alliance, both in New York City, as well as Saudi Arabia, with W. Ian Lipkin, MD, of Columbia as senior author.

Today’s report comes less than 2 weeks after the report that a number of camels in Oman and the Canary Islands tested positive for antibodies to MERS-CoV, suggesting past exposure to the virus.

“There have been several reports of finding MERS-like viruses in animals. None were a genetic match,” Lipkin commented in a Columbia press release today. “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.”

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