Bat Virus A 100-percent genetic match to human MERS

bat-617x416Image Credit:
Lawrence LeBlond

Earlier this month scientists from The Netherlands found a correlation between MERS and camels, discovering Middle Eastern and African dromedaries had carried coronavirus antibodies genetically similar to the virus infecting humans.

Now, researchers from Columbia University, EcoHealth Alliance and the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health have discovered the first concrete evidence of animal to human transmission. The results of this find could have strong implications in finding a cure, or at least a vaccine, for MERS coronavirus in humans. Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues discovered the MERS virus in a bat that was taken near the site of the first outbreak in Saudi Arabia. The team said the virus found in the bat is a 100 percent genetic match to that found in humans, indicating a strong likelihood this disease originated in bats. However, they cannot rule out an intermediary animal that may be involved in transmission.

This was the first study to actively seek out an animal reservoir for MERS in Saudi Arabia and to identify a genetic match between animal and human. Results of this discovery are published in the online edition of the CDC 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,” said Lipkin.

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