Origin of deadly MERS virus found in bats

The virus that causes Middle East
Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been
found in bats in Saudi Arabia, suggesting a
potential origin for the disease, according
to a new study.
Researchers tested samples from bats
living about 7 miles away from the home
of the first person known to be infected
with MERS in Saudi Arabia.
A virus found in one of the bats was 100
percent identical to the MERS virus seen
in people, the researchers said.
"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, its coming from
the vicinity of that first case," study
researcher Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, director of
the Center for Infection and Immunity at
Columbia Universitys Mailman School of
Public Health, said in a statement.
MERS first appeared in Saudi Arabia in
September 2012, and has since infected
94 people and caused 46 deaths,
according to the World Health
Organization.
The researchers noted that bats are
known to be reservoirs of other viruses
that can infect people, including rabies
and SARS, the severe respiratory illness
that sickened more than 8,000 and killed
nearly 800 in Southeast Asia in 2002 and
2003. [Why MERS Is Not the New SARS
]
Because people often don't come in
contact with bats, the researchers suspect
that bats may infect other animals, which
in turn, infect people. The researchers
said they will continue to look for the
virus in other domestic and wild animals
in the region.
A study published earlier this month
found that camels in Oman, a country in
the Arabian peninsula, had developed
antibodies against the MERS virus. This
suggests that the camels were infected in
the past with the MERS virus, or a very
similar one, the researchers said.
However, the actual virus was not found
in the animals.