First appearing in Southern China in November of 2002, SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) became a global threat by March 2003. Spreading to countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. During the 2003 outbreak, SARS infected over 8,000 people, killing more than 700.
EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust) and its scientific collaborators were the first to identify the original reservoir for the SARS virus. Originally, it was believed that civets were the possible reservoir for the disease but scientists still questioned the role of live wet market conditions seen in Guangdong and other areas of China.
The presence of bats and bat products in food and traditional medicine led to the sampling of nine bat species in search of the natural SARS reservoir. From March 2004 through December 2004, investigators collected data from 408 bats in their native habitat at four locations - Guangdong, Guangxi, Hubei and Tianjin.
Among the species surveyed, horseshoe bats demonstrated a high SARS antibody prevalence. The high seroprevalence and wide distribution of seropositive bats is consistent with the pattern expected from a wildlife reservoir host for a pathogen.
The probability that there are still more SARS-related coronaviruses to be discovered in bats is high and further research is being conducted to assess potential roles played by different bat species in the SARS emergence.
President & Disease Ecologist
Associate Vice President
DVM, MPH, cert. International Veterinary Medicine