Contrary to earlier studies indicating the civet to be carriers of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus, scientists have now identified horseshoe bats as the highly likely hosts of the deadly disease. From a sample survey conducted over a variety of bat species across China, experts found that up to 70 per cent of some of the species showed evidence of an infection with viruses similar to the SARS coronavirus.
The study sampled over 400 bats in their native habitats from four locations in China. Blood, fecal and respiratory swabs were collected and independently analyzed. The viruses found in the bats were 92 per cent similar to the human SARS virus. This finding is crucial in preventing outbreaks of SARS and other similar viruses carried by bats and passed on to humans, as it provides scientists with vital clues for an opportunity to break the transmission link.
Over the last decade, bats have been identified as the source of a host of diseases including encephalitis and respiratory diseases caused by the Nipah and Hendra viruses. SARS now joins the list of infectious viruses that bats can transmit. Bats are, in fact, a known reservoir of a number of zoonotic viruses.
Scientists call this finding yet another piece of the unfinished SARS jigsaw puzzle. SARS killed about 770 people and caused billions in economic damage in the 200203 outbreak. In a bid to understand the disease the experts plan to examine the possible transmission path of the virus more closely.
Both bats and civets are considered delicacies in China and other areas of the Far East. Civet is one of the main ingredients in an exotic wildlife dish called dragon-tiger-phoenix soup, for which wealthy Chinese would be willing to shell out large sums! In fact, it is widely believed in southern China that eating wildlife increases vigor and vitality.
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