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South African Bats May Be Source of New Coronavirus, Study Says

South African bats may be the source of the new coronavirus that’s killed 45 people, mostly in Saudi Arabia, according to a study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

A virus found in the feces of a bat in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces is more closely related to Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, than any other known virus, researchers from the University of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, and the University of Bonn wrote in the article today.

The finding sheds new light on a pathogen that has infected at least 90 people and killed half of them since September, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization, but whose origin remains unknown. Africa has been the source of other viruses found in the Middle East, such as Rift Valley fever virus, which caused a severe outbreak in Saudi Arabia in 2000, the authors wrote.

More studies of bats and potential intermediate hosts such as camels “are urgently needed to elucidate the emergence of MERS-CoV,” the researchers said. “Such studies should focus on the Arabian Peninsula and Africa.”

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