New strain of Sars virus linked to Asian bats
PARIS (AFP) - A novel strain of the deadly SARS virus that sparked a health scare earlier this year is closely related to a virus found in Asian bats, according to a study published on Tuesday.
Scientists in the Netherlands said they had sequenced the genetic code of a viral sample taken from a 60-year-old man whose death in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in June triggered fears that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was returning in a new guise.
The new strain, called HCoV-EMC/2012, is part of a viral family called coronavirus, but in a specific category called betacoronavirus. Its closest known cousins are a strain found in lesser bamboo bats (Tylonycteris pachypus) and another found in Japanese house bats, Pipistrellus abramus.
"The virus is most closely related to viruses in bats in Asia, and there are no human viruses closely related to it," said Dr Ron Fouchier of the prestigious Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam. "Therefore we speculate that it comes from an animal source," he said, noting that Pipistrellus bats are present in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries.