Bat samples tested positive with virus causing MERS, which killed 47 in Saudi Arabia

In a recent discovery, it was found that the bats in Saudi Arabia were the cause of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS outbreak which infected 96 people, killing 47 of them, confirmed the health officials.

The infectious outbreak effecting the Middle East the most has been going in for 15 months resulting in victims either getting sick while in Saudi Arabia or growing ill from their recent trip to the Middle East.

According to a recent study conducted by an international team of doctors, it was found that the Coronavirus in bats caused the human outbreak to occur. However it was still not confirmed how the virus which was found in a single insect eating bat amongst 100 tested, could transmit the virus to humans without any contact with them like biting them or drooling on fruits which later have been consumed by humans.

The sample of different types of bats were tested and the bat which was tested positive with traits of the virus in the fecal sample was the Taphozous perforatus bat or the Egyptiam tomb bat which roosts in abandoned buildings.

How did the virus infect the humans
The virus can infect the humans through breathing in the dried faeces of the bat which might seek shelter in the buildings, much like the hantavirus which infected several Americans while sweeping up dried mouse droppings, said Dr. Jonathan H. Epstein, a veterinarian with the EcoHealth Alliance, who helped in trapping the bats for testing.

He said, “So it is possible that victims, like shepherds who might seek shelter in the buildings, picked it up by breathing in dried bat guano – similar to the way that Americans have been infected with hantavirus while sweeping up dried mouse droppings”.

Another way the infection may have travelled to humans was by means of other animals like the pigs. What is also possible is, pigs for instance can be infected by the Nipah virus from the bats and then pass it on to humans through slaughter houses.

Study details led by Dr. W.Ian Lipkin:
Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, head of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, said that they have been busy testing other animals like camel, sheep, goats and cows for tracking the virus which may have been transferred through a chain reaction. About 15,000 polymerase test have already been performed.

“It’s a huge amount of work,” he said.

Bats in Africa and Eastern Europe have been a cause for the infectious virus causing MERS was a known for several months, however traces of the virus was not found in the bats from the Middle East before. It has been also found that the camels residing in Oman may carry some antibodies related to a similar kind of a virus.

First infected bat found in Bisha, Saudi Arabia:
In a small city in Saudi Arabia, Bisha the first infected bat was found in an abandoned house in a date palm orchard. The first known victim of the MERS from Bisha, a businessman of a large paint warehouse nearby. Therefore, the
Investigators from Columbia and EcoHealth Alliance took samples from there.

The date palm orchard was a large garden with plenty of fruit trees and insects which may attract many kinds of bats. Dr. Lipkin said that the first infected victim was a 60 year old man who got sick in mid-June and died 2 weeks later.

The Bisha victim had three separate houses for his three wives and was building a fourth for the woman he planned to marry, thus he was susceptible to spread the virus and was still quite vigorous, said Dr. Lipkin.

Dr. Lipkin also added that the victim was an owner of 4 pet camels who were also tested for the virus, however the results of the detection of the test has not come in yet. He said that before the livestock have been further tested for the cause of MERS, they have to be sampled for an endemic foot and mouth disease to a govt. laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y to be certified negative for it.

Thus testing them for a possible virus causing MERS will be delayed with this restriction taking months for the testing process, said Dr. Memish. This made the testing of the bat samples to be done much sooner. However, one of the frozen shipments of positive bat samples was opened at customs on entry into United States was thawed before it reached the Dr. Lipkin’s lab 48 hrs later.

However off the sample that was left, there was a 100 percent match, a term quite unlikely in the field of virology, reported the study.

Findings by Dr. Memish:
According to Dr.Memish, victims of most of the cases killed by the new virus were generally old, having chronic illnesses like diabetes, or heart conditions, however there have been cases of healthier victims also with mild symptoms. Thus the mortality rate much lower than 60% shall soon be established.

Dr. Memish, in his presentation hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security in Washington on Wednesday, he said that the news about the new virus outbreak alert in his own country was known to him only after he read about it late last September on ProMED.

He also added that it was too late by then to advise the travellers not to come for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which draws 4.5 million pilgrims. “That put an incredible strain on our system,” he said.

Unusual cases of pneumonia of all the Saudi hospitals were looked into for the virus ordered by his department. It was seen in many cases that the spread of the virus generally spread among family members or nurses and doctors who took care of the infected as the virus does not spread easily from person to person.