|Egyptian Tomb Bat|
(image from The Rufford Foundation)
The bats carried a type of MERS which is a 100% genetic match for the virus and was discovered near the area where the outbreaks were first reported in Saudi Arabia. Researchers believe that it may be the animal origin of the disease. They tested more than a thousand bats from seven different species. They believe another animal, an 'intermediate host', may be involved in spreading the virus from bats to humans.
According to Ziad Memish, MD, Deputy Minister of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and lead author of the study.
"There is no evidence of direct exposure to bats in the majority of human cases of MERS, Given that human-to-human transmission is inefficient, we speculate that an as-yet-to-be determined intermediate host plays a critical role in human disease."
In an attempt to locate the source of the deadly infection, scientists have been testing for the virus in a variety of wild and domestic animals. Recently, MERS was discovered in camels from the region, but the virus was not a perfect genetic match for MERS and most of those infected had no previous contact with camels.
In the next few days, the group is expected to release a report on MERS in camels, sheep, goats and cattle.