A species of Chinese bat has been confirmed as the source of the deadly SARS virus that broke out in 2002.
An international study group, led by Chinese researcher Shi Zhengli, have isolated a SARS-like coronavirus from the rufous horseshoe bat, a species widespread in China and southeast Asia, the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed on Thursday.
Shi is a researcher with the Wuhan Institute of Virology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The latest study results in the Oct. 30 online issue of the journal Nature, confirm a 2005 research that says bat species are natural hosts of coronaviruses closely related to SARS.
Diverse SARS-like coronaviruses (CoVs) have now been reported from other bats in China, Europe and Africa, but none is considered a direct progenitor of SARS-CoV. The two novel coronaviruses isolated from horseshoe bats in southwest China's Yunnan Province are far more closely related to SARS-CoV than any previously identified, and can infect cells of humans, pigs and monkeys, the researchers said.
The SARS virus killed about 800 people during 2002 and 2003. Palm civets sold at live animal markets were previously believed to be the direct source of the virus, but evidence suggested that civets were not the original hosts.
Bats are also hosts to several other viruses, including Hendra and Nipah, but the chances of human infection by these viruses are slim, researchers said.
Bats play important role in natural ecological systems, and the best way to avoid pathogenic infections from bats and other wild animals is to protect their habitat, according to the researchers.