08/21/2013 01:58 EDT | Updated 10/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Study: Genetic match of deadly virus seen in Saudi bat found near 1st human MERS case

ATLANTA - Scientists have found the mysterious MERS virus in a bat in Saudi Arabia.

An international research team said the bat virus is an exact match to the first known human case of Middle East respiratory syndrome. The sample was collected from within a few miles of that patient's home.

But the researchers say the virus could have spread to people through other animals. Signs of MERS-like viruses have been reported in other animals, including camels.

Since it was identified last September, the respiratory illness has sickened nearly 100 people, most of them in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. About half of them died.

The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases released the study online Wednesday.