Scientists question origin of MERS-CoV

Scientists detected a very similar virus to the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in the feces of a South African bat pointing to possible African origins for the MERS-CoV, according to a recent study.

Scientists from South Africa and the University Bonn in Germany found that the virus closely resembles the dangerous novel pathogen MERS-CoV, which killed close to 50 people since it was discovered last year. The study was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases and suggests African bats could play a part in the evolution of MERS-CoV predecessor viruses.

After sampling 62 bats from 13 different species, the scientists found a virus that was genetically more closely related to MERS-CoV than any other known virus. While all the cases of MERS-CoV so far are connected with the Arabian peninsula, the scientists said that Africa should be taken into account as a possible origin. The research team gave Rift Valley fever as an example. That disease spread from East Africa and caused outbreaks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen in 2000.

The scientists said that MERS-CoV may originally come from bats and could be reaching the human population via other animals acting as intermediate hosts.

By determining the origin and modes of spread, scientists can reduce the risk for human infections. The team said that further studies of bats and possible interim hosts are needed to determine the origin of MERS-CoV.