Scientists from Australia, the U.S. and China Thursday confirmed that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed more than 750 people worldwide in 2002 and 2003, originated from horseshoe bats in China.
With the study published in the journal Nature, the researchers said they took 117 samples of throat and fecal swabs from a colony of Chinese rufous horseshoe bats over a 12-month period from the Yunnan Province in China.
The researchers noted they found two types of SARS-like viruses, RsSHC014 and Rs3367, which were similar to the type of SARS virus that infected people.
The scientists added the SARS-like viruses may spread directly to humans from bats. Previously, it was thought that the virus went through another different animal first before infecting a human.
Due to lack of supporting evidence, researchers ignored previous notion that bats could be a direct ancestor of the virus.
"We've been looking at bats for the past eight years, looking for this particular virus," Researcher Gary Crameri said.
"Although a lot of groups across the world have been, this particular virus can affect humans like the original one and that's really been the key to this particular virus."
"When they spill out into other mammals, like humans, they can be devastating," he added.
Scientists Thursday said it was the first time the live virus was successfully isolated from bats to ultimately confirm that they are the virus' forerunner.
"The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics," the statement said.
"Our results - in addition to the recent demonstration of MERS-CoV in a Saudi Arabian bat, and of bat CoVs closely related to MERS-CoV in China, Africa, Europe and North America - suggest that bat coronaviruses remain a substantial global threat to public health."
"Now that animals, including bats, and humans live closer together as our population expands globally, the opportunity for direct transmission of these dangerous viruses becomes more and more of an issue," Crameri stressed.
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