MERS virus linked to South African bats

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A new coronavirus that has claimed 45 victims, many of them in Saudi Arabia, may have come from South African bats, according to a medical journal.

The study, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, found that faeces from a breed of bat found in the country’s KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces contained a virus more closely related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus than any other.

Since September last year the coronavirus, known as MERS-CoV, has infected more than 90 people and killed half of them, according to the World Health Organisation.

The research, conducted by the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Bonn, said that more investigation into bats and other potential hosts such as camels were “urgently needed”. It said that studies should focus on the Arabian Peninsula and Africa.

Cases of the virus have predominantly been in Saudi Arabia, but have also been found in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

Millions are expected to travel to Makkah in October for the haj pilgrimage, but Saudi authorities have cut the number of visas this year, citing safety concerns over expansion work at the main mosque site.

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