SARS-Like Coronavirus Found In Bats
October 31, 2013

Discovery Of New Coronavirus Suggests Direct Bat-To-Human SARS Transmission

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Ten years after the SARS outbreak, researchers from a nonprofit conservation and global health issues organization have announced the discovery of a new coronavirus in Chinese horseshoe bats similar to the disease that infected more than 8,000 people and resulted in nearly 800 deaths worldwide.

Scientists with EcoHealth Alliance and an international team of colleagues have found genome sequences of a new pathogen closely related to the SARS coronavirus that first emerged in Asia in 2002 and led to a global pandemic. They were able to isolate the virus from the bats and analyze it, with the hopes that their efforts could lead to the development of a vaccine or other outbreak-prevention discoveries.

“Our discovery that bats may directly infect humans has enormous implications for public health control measures,” EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak, co-senior author of a research paper detailing the team’s findings. That report was published Wednesday in the journal Nature and also involved experts from the US, China, Australia and Singapore.

“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,” added co-senior author Dr. Zhengli Shi, Director of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. “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.”

Dr. Daszak, Dr. Shi and their colleagues were able to isolate and create a culture of a live virus that binds to ACE2, a human SARS receptor, which suggests that the disease can be directly transmitted from bats to humans. During the original SARS outbreak, it was believed that bat viruses first infected civets, and the pathogen evolved to infect people through the primarily nocturnal mammalian host.

This new findings suggests that SARS may have, in fact, originated directly from one of the bat viruses and that civets actually played no role in the transmission process. While the authors state that their research has not fully explained the origins of the SARS coronavirus, they said that their findings offer up compelling evidence that an intermediate host was not necessary for the disease to become contagious to humans.

“EcoHealth Alliance continues to work on predicting and preventing the next pandemic crisis,” Dr. Daszak said. “Our research uncovered a wide diversity of potentially pandemic viruses present, right now, in bats in China that could spillover into people and cause another SARS-like outbreak.”

“Even worse, we don't know how lethal these viruses would be if such an outbreak erupted,” he added. “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.”