Australian Bats Are Carrying The Virus Which Spawned The Deadly SARS Outbreak

Picture: Wikipedia

A close relative of the SARS virus which killed more than 700 people 10 years ago has been found in bats which live across the world, including Australia.

A team of international scientists isolated the relative of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) from horseshoe bats in China, confirming them as the origin of the virus responsible for the 2002-2003 pandemic.

The SARS-CoV pandemic killed 774 people of the 8094 people infected, a fatality ratio of almost 10 per cent.

The research team, led by Professor Shi Zhengli from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and including CSIRO and Duke-NUS scientist Professor Linfa Wang, had their breakthrough results published in the journal Nature.

The CSIRO says researchers globally have previously used genetic sequencing to demonstrate that bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like CoVs.

However, this is the first time live virus has been successfully isolated from bats to definitively confirm them as the origin of the virus.

The SARS-like CoV, named SL-CoV WIV1, was isolated directly from faecal samples of Chinese horseshoe bats using the virus isolation methodology developed by scientists at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.

Here it is:

A transmission electron micrograph of a thin section through part of a cell infected with the virus showing SARS-CoV (black dots) surrounding the cell. (Image: Sandra Crameri, CSIRO)

The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics.

Horseshoe bats are found around the world, including Australia.

The CSIRO says the bats’ role in SARS-CoV transmission highlights the importance of protecting the bat’s natural environment so they are not forced into highly populated urban areas in search of food.

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