According to the World Health Organization, a new coronavirus (the hCoV-EMC) with origins in the Middle East is being blamed for nine infections and five deaths.
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Similar to SARS (or severe acute respiratory syndrome), this particular hCoV-EMC coronavirus is closely tied to bats. But what’s surprising is that this particular virus can also infect a range of animals, and, so scientists say, might be more difficult to eliminate compared to SARS.
In fact, when German researchers compared hCoV-EMC to SARS they found similarities in the pattern between the two diseases—both latch onto receptors deep within the lungs. However, unlike SARS, hCoV-EMC is capable of infecting human, pig and bat cells.
“Our results indicate that the new virus [and it’s] receptor conserved between bats, pigs and humans suggest a low barrier against cross-host transmission,” says Christian Drosten of the University of Bonn Medical Centre and co-author of the study.
This high risk of cross-host transmission between species means that hCoV-EMC can pass easily between animals and humans repeatedly, making it more difficult to eradicate.
“It’s completely unusual for any coronavirus to be able to do that,” says Drosten, “…to go back to its original reservoir.”
So far, scientists have not found a case of human-to-human hCoV-EMC transmission. However, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the medical community are keeping a watchful eye out for cases to prevent a domino effect of infection.