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Medical News & Perspectives
November 9, 2005

Bats May Be SARS Reservoir

JAMA. 2005;294(18):2291. doi:10.1001/jama.294.18.2291

Two research teams have independently identified the Chinese horseshoe bat as the natural viral reservoir from which the SARS coronavirus that infected humans likely emerged. SARS, first appearing in China in 2002, spread from Asia to Canada and other countries, infecting more than 8000 individuals and killing 774 worldwide.

The research teams looked at bats as a possible reservoir because these animals are well suited to transmit zoonotic diseases: they are genetically diverse, live longer than most small mammals, roost in clusters, and fly long distances. In addition, many people in Asia eat bats or use their feces for medicinal purposes. Each team collected anal swabs and serum samples from hundreds of bats from the wild and from Chinese markets; they found that SARS-like viruses were present in many fecal samples and that most blood samples contained antibodies against the viruses. One team, with members from China, Australia, and the United States, reported its findings in Science (Li et al. http://www.sciencemag.org), while the other team, from the University of Hong Kong, reported its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Lau et al. http://www.pnas.org).