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.”