SCIENTISTS IN THE United States have said they have produced the “clearest evidence yet” that the SARS virus originated in Chinese horseshoe bats and that direct bat-to-human transmission is “plausible”.
Researchers have been studying the virus since the 2002 pandemic to better understand how it is transmitted and prepare for future outbreaks. These findings were made by an international research team with participants in China, Australia, Singapore and the US.
“Our discovery that bats carrying SARS-CoV may be able to directly infect humans has enormous implications for public health control measures,” said co-author Dr Peter Daszak.
The results are based on genetic analysis of samples taken over the course of a year from members of a horseshoe bat colony in Kunming, China. At least seven different strains of SL-CoVs were found to be circulating within the single group of bats.
Researchers suggested the findings highlight the importance of research programs targeting high-risk wildlife groups in emerging disease hotspots to predict, prepare for, and prevent pandemics.
“Our findings suggest that SARS-like coronaviruses are diverse and abundant in bats in Asia, and the potential for future spillover remains high,” Daszak said.
“If we add this to the recent finding that Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) originates in Saudi Arabian bats, it’s strong evidence that bat coronaviruses remain a substantial global threat to public health,” he added.
The full results of the study were published today in the journal Nature.