The latest sufferer, recently reported by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health, is a 66-year-old man from the southwestern province of Asir, who is said to be in a stable condition. The case brings the overall number of laboratory-confirmed incidents to 80, of which 45 have been fatal.
With 66 of the documented cases – and 38 of the deaths –occurring in Saudi Arabia, there were fears that the millions of Muslim pilgrims converging on Mecca in October could provide ideal conditions for the spread of the virus. One of the defining features of a pandemic is sustained human-to-human transmission. But, while the virus can be transmitted from one person to another, it is still not clear whether transmission is sustained in the community, the WHO says on its website.
According to the Coronavirus Study Group, the few epidemiological data available suggest that MERS-CoV primarily infects animals, that human-to-human transmission is limited, and that it should not yet be categorized as a human virus. In recent announcement published in the Journal of Virology, the researchers report that bats are likely to be the natural host, and that a single variant may have crossed over to an unidentified intermediate animal host, before moving into the human population.
But Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, says he doesn't currently see direct evidence of the role of an intermediate animal in the MERS-CoV spread. "The infection may come directly from bats, by contamination of human foodstuffs by bat droppings, urine, or saliva," he says.
He adds that there are parallels between the MERS outbreak and the outbreak of a bat virus called Nipah virus in Bangladesh. Nipah is transmitted directly to humans, who become infected by eating contaminated food.