Researchers Discover MERS Virus In Bat In Saudi Arabia

“The virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been found in [one bat] in Saudi Arabia, suggesting a potential origin for the disease, according to a new study” published Wednesday in the CDC’s “Emerging Infectious Diseases” journal, Live Science reports (Rettner, 8/21). “An international research team said the bat virus is an exact match to the first known human case of Middle East respiratory syndrome,” the Associated Press/Washington Post writes, noting “[t]he sample was collected from within a few miles of that patient’s home” (8/21). “Led by a team of investigators from the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, EcoHealth Alliance, and the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the study is the first to search for an animal reservoir for MERS in Saudi Arabia,” according to a Mailman School press release (8/21). “It’s the first time the virus — or a piece of it — has been found in an animal,” NPR’s “Shots” blog states (Doucleff, 8/21).

“The bat, known as an Egyptian tomb bat, ends a year-long mystery to find the source of the [virus] after the first case emerged last summer from Saudi Arabia, not far from where the bat was found,” TIME Healthland notes, adding, “While other animals, including the camel, have been fingered as possible carriers, none of the viruses isolated from these animals were a complete match with those extracted from infected people” (Sifferlin, 8/22). The “international team of doctors blamed coronavirus in bats for the human outbreak, but said that many questions remained, in part because a perfect match for the virus was found in only a single insect-eating bat out of about 100 Saudi bats tested,” according to the New York Times. “And since such bats do not normally bite people, drool on fruit or do other things that might transmit the disease to people, it was still unclear how the virus leapt to humans,” the newspaper adds (McNeil, 8/21).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.