A new study suggests that the source of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is the horseshoe bat.
The BBC reports researchers found a virus closely related to the Sars coronavirus in bats from three regions of China. In the journal Science, the researchers say the virus may have needed to infect another animal such as the civet before it could be transmitted to humans.
All three species of bat in which Dr Shi's group found the SARS-like coronavirus, dubbed SL-CoV, are horseshoe bats of the genus Rhinolophus.
Peter Daszak, director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine in New York, who was also involved in the study says confirming horseshoe bats as the source of SARS has implications for public health research and policy:
These bats have a wide distribution in Europe and Asia, and what we don't know, and need to know urgently, is the distribution of the SARS-like virus in these bats.
On a wider scale, we need surveillance of wildlife to look for possible new diseases, and to identify changes in the environment, human behaviour and demography which drive the emergence of these diseases; because almost every new disease which has emerged recently has been driven by changes in land use.
The last thing we should do is to take it out on the bats, because the evidence suggests that they have carried this coronavirus for thousands, perhaps millions, of years; only recently has it emerged in a big way, and it was human behaviours that made the difference.
Mr. Daszak sounds a little naive if he doesn't expect humans to "take it out on the bats." The 2002-03 SARS outbreak caused about 770 deaths, and billions of dollars in economic damage.
After the World Health Organization endorsed the possibility that the SARS virus had entered the human population from civets, animals eaten in wildlife restaurants and butchered in live animal markets in southern China, 10,000 civets were killed in China.