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Promiscuous Virus

Researchers find that a deadly SARS-like virus can infect bat and pig cells, as well as humans.

By | December 14, 2012

Wikimedia, MnolfA coronavirus—genetically related to the SARS virus—that caused two infections and sparked the World Health Organization to issue an alert in September may be able to jump from a variety of bats and pigs to humans, and back again, according to a study published last month (November 20) in mBio. The virus’s potential to infect different species in its current form draws further concern for its ability to cause a serious outbreak in people.

“It's unusual for a coronavirus to easily go back to bats,” lead study author Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany, told ScienceNOW. “Most coronaviruses come from bats, but once they jump to other species, you could never get them to reinfect bat cells.”

But Drosten and his colleagues found that the new virus, dubbed hCoV-EMC—short for human coronavirus-Erasmus Medical Center, where it was isolated—could infect cells from humans, pigs, and a wide variety of bats, suggesting that no adaptation was necessary to support a leap between species. The results indicated that animal populations should be monitored for hCoV-EMC outbreaks, the authors argue.

Health experts first identified hCoV-EMC last summer in a 60-year-old Saudi Arabian patient who later died. The deadly virus has since been linked to cases in Qatar and Jordan. Public health experts have confirmed nine infections and five deaths from the virus, though experts suspect more cases exist.

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