Genomic sequencing of viruses allows scientists to reconstruct how, when, and where the virus has evolved. This, in turn, allows researchers to establish whether human infections have originated from a single zoonotic event (ie, where the virus passes just once from an animal to a human), with subsequent transmission between humans, or whether the virus is transmitting from animals to humans repeatedly.
The results clearly show that the circulating virus in Saudi Arabia is centred around
The researchers' analysis of how quickly the virus has evolved, and how it has transmitted between locations and patients, suggests that a single transmission from animal to human is unlikely. Instead, it appears that the virus has transmitted from an animal reservoir to humans on several occasions, as well as transmitting between humans.
Diverse genetic variants of the virus have appeared in
The results also show that considerable time has passed since the viruses analysed in this study shared a common ancestor, which lends support to the idea that MERS-CoV might be being transmitted to humans by an intermediary animal host. While an ancestor of the virus has been found in bats, and signs of the virus have been found in dromedary camels, no animal reservoir for the virus has yet been definitively identified, and the authors reiterate an urgent need for further animal studies in the region to better establish where the virus is coming from.
According to Professor Memish, "So far, there has been very little information about the molecular evolution of MERS-CoV, and how this relates to virus transmission. While our research substantially adds to the existing evidence base for how, where, and when MERS-CoV is transmitting, further definition of the exposures responsible for the sporadic introductions of MERS-CoV into human populations is urgently needed to provide the necessary information to interrupt transmission and contain the virus."*
Professor Zumla, who is supported by the
Writing in a linked Comment, Professor David SC Hui from The
Keywords for this news article include: Lancet, Genetics, Virology, RNA Viruses, Nidovirales Infections.
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