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Two Teams of Scientists Link Bat Species to SARS

October 01, 2005|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Horseshoe bats in China are infected with viruses similar to the SARS virus, suggesting that the bats are the origin of the SARS outbreak that struck Asia in 2002 and 2003, two research teams independently reported this month.

Researchers had previously found the virus in civet cats sold in markets as food, and some assumed that those animals were the source. But the World Health Organization cautioned that the virus could not be found widely in wild civets.

The new data indicate that the virus is passed from bats to civets, perhaps through contact in markets, the researchers said. Horseshoe bats are used as food and medicine in China.

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, emerged in China in 2002 and spread around the world through infected travelers. The outbreak killed about 800 people and infected about 8,000.

Strict quarantines and other measures stopped the spread of the disease, which is caused by a cold-related virus called the SARS coronavirus.

The two teams reported this week in the journal Science and earlier in September in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that a SARS-like virus was widespread in bats in the wild and in markets throughout China.

The viruses found by the teams were slightly different from each other and from the strain found in humans, but scientists said small mutations could change them into the human form.

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