The SARS-like virus that's caught the attention of health care workers worldwide appears to be related to a virus that infects bats in Southeast Asia.
Dutch virologists uncovered the genome sequence of the coronavirus that has killed one and sickened another patient; both had traveled to Saudi Arabia recently. The code reveals that the virus is more similar to two bat viruses than it is to sudden acutes respiratory syndrome.
"Bats harbor many coronaviruses, so it's logical to assume that bats are the natural reservoir" of the new virus, Ron Fouchier, who led the sequencing work, told National Public Radio.
Fouchier suspects there was an in-between animal that infected the patients. The World Health Organization said the virus so far does not appear to jump from person to person easily.
Scientists are in the process of developing a test that could be used to quickly identify new cases of the virus, Reuters reports.
"If any national authority is concerned about a patient who is under investigation, if they want to contact us, we can put them in touch with these laboratories and provide initial tests for any cases which are suspicious," WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas said.
The clues on the origin of the virus are helpful in preventing its further spread, infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm told Time Magazine.
"This means we could prevent the fire before it starts instead of rushing towards it with fire trucks and water hoses afterwards," Osterholm said.