On Wednesday, health officials confirmed that bats in Saudi Arabia were the source of the coronavirus in the Middle East, which can cause MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. MERS has thus far sickened 96 people in the Middle East. 47 of those ultimately died.
The recent MERS outbreak has been going on for 15 months. Most of the victims have fallen ill in Saudi Arabia. Some grew sick after having traveled to the Middle East.
Health officials confirmed Wednesday that bats in Saudi Arabia were the source of the mysterious virus, the coronavirus. that has sickened 96 people in the Middle East, killing 47 of them.
An international team of doctors blamed coronavirus in bats for the human outbreak. Still, they have said that many questions remained. A perfect match for the virus was found in only a single insect-eating bat out of about 100 Saudi bats tested.
The bat is a Taphozous perforatus, or Egyptian tomb bat. Typically, the creature roosts in abandoned buildings. The virus was found in a fecal sample inside one of these buildings.
Dr. Jonathan H. Epstein, a veterinarian with the EcoHealth Alliance who helped trap the bats, has suggested that victims, like shepherds who might seek shelter in the buildings, picked it up by breathing in dried bat guano. If so, it would be very similar to the way that Americans have been infected with hantavirus while sweeping up dried mouse droppings.
Another possibility is that some other animal came into contact with the feces from an infected bat, and that animal then spread the coronavirus. It is also possible that an animal picked it up that way and then infected a human.
An example of an animal that might have potentially done this are pigs. They can get Nipah virus from bats and then pass it to humans in slaughterhouses.
According to Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, head of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity has already done 15,000 polymerase chain reaction tests tracking the virus. Further tests on camels, sheep, goats and a cow will be finished soon.
“It’s a huge amount of work,” he said.
While for several months it has been known that bats in Africa and Eastern Europe carried viruses related to MERS, the relevant virus had not been found in Middle Eastern bats before. Camels in Oman have shown antibodies to a similar type of virus.
Bisha, a small Saudi Arabian city, was where the infected bat was found. It was discovered in an abandoned house in a date palm orchard.
Investigators from Columbia and EcoHealth Alliance focused their attentions in that region and took samples there because the first known victim of the MERS outbreak was a businessman who had lived in Bisha.
His business, a large paint warehouse, was located nearby. Many kinds of bats were attracted to the large garden on the property where the warehouse was, because there were also fruit trees and insects there. According to Dr. Lipkin, the victim, a wealthy 60-year-old man, got sick in mid-June and died two weeks later.
Four pet camels of the victim also were sampled. Those results are not in yet, Dr. Lipkin added. Plum Island, Mass., is where samples taken from livestock in countries with endemic foot-and-mouth disease must first be delivered to an Agriculture Department laboratory. There, they must be certified negative for foot-and-mouth before they can be released for further testing.
What was recovered from that sample, however, was a 100 percent match. Achieving that is virtually unheard of in virology, the study said.
The victim from Bisha, if he lived here in the United States, would not have had separate houses for his three wives and building a fourth for a woman he planned to marry, because having so many wives amounts to bigamy.
Dr. Memish said he only learned of the existence of the new virus in his own country when he read about it late last September on ProMED
By then, according to Dr. Hemish, it was too late to advise travelers not to come to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which draws 4.5 million pilgrims.
His department ordered all Saudi hospitals to look for and report unusual cases of pneumonia in which family members or nurses and doctors who cared for patients were infected.
Written by: Douglas Cobb