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Researchers Continue Search For MERS Origin

The Economist reports on the search for the origin of the MERS virus, noting of 103 cases recorded by the CDC, 49 have been fatal — “a scary death rate.” The magazine details the search, which “was started by Ali Zaki of the Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands” with the sequencing of the virus’s genome, allowing them “to construct an evolutionary tree which showed it is related to two previously identified viruses, both of which infect bats” (8/31). In a paper released last week, “a team led by Columbia University virologist Ian Lipkin reports finding an RNA fragment in the feces of an Egyptian tomb bat that matched the MERS virus exactly,” Science notes, adding, “They didn’t find the virus itself, and the snippet was only 182 nucleotides long — but it made the species a prime suspect as the MERS reservoir” (Kupferschmidt, 8/30).

“People do not commonly come into contact with bats, so an intermediate host is probably involved,” The Economist notes and highlights research looking at camels as a potential source. “To provide that proof, someone would have to isolate MERS virus from a camel and show it was the same strain as that found in those who have caught the disease. If it were not, the hunt would have to continue. Sheep or goats, for example, might be to blame,” the magazine adds (8/31).