Chinese Horseshoe Bats — the SARS-CoV Reservoir?
Ten years after the SARS outbreak, EcoHealth Alliance scientists and an international group of collaborators have uncovered genome sequences of a new virus closely related to the SARS coronavirus that erupted in Asia in 2002 – 2003, which caused a global pandemic crisis.
For the first time ever, the group was able to isolate the live SARS-like virus from bats allowing scientists to conduct detailed studies to create control measures to thwart outbreaks and provide opportunities for vaccine development.
“Our discovery that bats may directly infect humans has enormous implications for public health control measures,” stated co-senior author Peter Daszak, PhD, President of EcoHealth Alliance.
“Since 2003 there has been disagreement about the origin of the virus that directly evolved into human SARS-CoV, the causative agent of the first emerging pandemic threat of the 21st century. Even though our team reported that bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses in 2005, we have been searching for this missing link for 10 years, and finally we’ve found it,” said Dr. Zhengli Shi, Director of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and co-senior author on the paper.
“There are lessons here for the recent outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus that likely originated in Saudi Arabian bats. We need to protect bat habitats from severe human-induced changes to the environment as well as create public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission,” continued Daszak. It is not uncommon for bats to be used as a food source for many people in China and other parts of Asia so the risk is substantial.