WEDNESDAY, Dec. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The new SARS-like
coronavirus that's caused five deaths and four other cases of
severe illness in the Middle East can infect cells from bats and
pigs, which means these animals could be a continuing source of
infection in humans, a new study indicates.
During the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in
2003, nearly 8,100 people became sick worldwide and 774 of them
died, according to the World Health Organization.
Researchers found that the new virus -- called hCoV-EMC -- uses
a different receptor in the human body than the SARS virus did, and
can infect cells from a wide range of bat species and pigs. This
suggests that there may be little to prevent the virus from passing
from these animals to humans over and over again, according to the
study published Dec. 11 in the online journal
The new virus was first identified in a patient in Saudi Arabia
in June. Although the virus does not appear to pass easily from
person-to-person, the fatality rate and the fact that the source of
the virus has not been identified has caused concern among public
health officials worldwide.
People with hCoV-EMC infection experience severe pneumonia and
often kidney failure.
"This virus is closely related to the SARS virus, and looking at the clinical picture, it causes the same pattern of disease," study author Christian Drosten, of the University of Bonn Medical Centre in Germany, said in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology.
Research on the new virus is continuing in many laboratories and
hospitals. Drosten said it's especially important to identify the
animal source of the virus, which would be a crucial piece of
information in managing a potential outbreak.
Like SARS, the new virus is most closely related to
coronaviruses from bats and can infect bat species that are present
all across Europe and into the Arabian Peninsula.
The World Health Organization has more about the
new SARS-like virus.