Bats Harbor SARS-Like Virus

May prove to be source of human SARS virus

THURSDAY, Sept. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Certain species of bats in southern China carry a SARS-like coronavirus (SL-CoV) that may be the elusive origin of SARS-CoV, the human virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, according to a Sciencexpress report from the journal Science.

Despite the rapid molecular classification of SARS-CoV after the 2002-2003 outbreaks in China, its natural reservoir has remained unknown. Civets, cat-like animals that are sold in markets, carry a similar virus, but farmed and wild civets are virus-free. Given that bats are hosts of several zoonotic viruses and are sold in the same markets for medicinal and food purposes, Wendong Li of the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and colleagues screened several species for SARS-CoV.

The authors collected 408 bats from four locations covering nine species, six genera and three families, and found a high prevalence of antibodies for SARS-CoV in several species of insectivorous "horseshoe" bats (range 28.3-71%).

The SL-CoV isolates were genetically 94% similar to SARS-CoV, with variability found only in the "high mutation" regions found in other SARS-CoVs that determine host specificity. Fruit bats were also found to contain SL-CoV, although with lower prevalence, and are frequently sold in markets along with civets.

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