Novel Coronavirus in Bats

A team of researchers has identified a novel coronavirus in a bat from Uganda that is very similar to the one causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in people, giving further credence to the theory that such viruses originate in bats[1].

Laboratory experiments with the virus indicate that, while its overall genetics appear similar to MERS-coronavirus (MERS-CoV), there are significant differences in part of its spike gene – the segment of the virus responsible for invading cells. Therefore, in its current state it is unlikely to pose a threat to humans, said lead study author Simon J. Anthony. By contrast, MERS-CoV itself has been shown to spread from animals such as camels to humans and between humans.

MERS, first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, is an illness marked by severe acute respiratory disease with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. It has a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of some 35%.
For the study, scientists sequenced the genome of the PDF-2180 virus found in a rectal swab taken from a dusky pipistrelle (Pipistrellus hesperidus), a species of bat trapped in 2013 in southwestern Uganda. Overall, the virus was 87 percent identical to MERS-CoV and 91 percent identical to NeoCoV, another coronavirus found in a Cape serotine bat (Neoromicia capensis) from South Africa[2]. However, part of the spike gene was only 46 percent identical to the one belonging to MERS-CoV. It seems a good idea to call this novel Coronavirus the Pipistrellus hesperidus Coronavirus or PipCoV.

Next, the scientists tested the ability of the virus to spread to humans, but it failed to do so. 'In its current form, evolution notwithstanding, this virus is probably not going to be a threat to human health,' Anthony said.

The discovery of the virus adds to the growing number of coronaviruses identified in bats, including NeoCoV from South Africa; Mex_CoV-9 from Mexico; BatCoV/KW2E from Thailand; P.pipi/VM314 from the Netherlands; H.sav/206645-40 from Italy; and BetaCoV/SC2013, HKU4 and HKU5, from China.

'Collectively, these examples demonstrate that the MERS-related coronaviruses are highly associated with bats and are geographically widespread,' Anthony said.

[1] Anthony et al: Further Evidence for Bats as the Evolutionary Source of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus in MBio - 2017
[2] Corman et al: Rooting the phylogenetic tree of MERS-Coronavirus by characterization of a conspecific virus from an African Bat in Journal of Virology - 2014 

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