EcoHealth Alliance Announces Discovery of SARS-Like Viruses Spilling Over into People in China

NEW YORK – March 2, 2018 – The result of its continued surveillance of people and animals in emerging disease hotspot regions, EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, has found evidence of viruses closely related to SARS in people in Yunnan Province, China. Published today in Virologica Sinica, this research confirms that coronaviruses capable of infecting humans continue to lurk in the wild. It also confirms the importance of continued study of these unknown viruses before they create outbreaks like the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic.

"We want to be clear that this doesn’t necessarily indicate a brewing outbreak," paper co-author and EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak said. "It does, however, quite clearly show the value of continued biosurveillance in hotspot regions like Southeast Asia. If we know what viruses are out there in wildlife, and which people are getting infected, we have a chance to stop pandemics dead in their tracks."

EcoHealth Alliance scientists, in partnership with Wuhan Institute of Virology and Duke-NUS, found SARSr-CoVs in bat caves near Jinning in Yunnan Province. Human testing revealed antibodies against SARSr Co-V in six people living nearby, though none recalled any symptoms related to SARS infection.

In 2005, EcoHealth Alliance scientists were among those invited by Chinese virologists and public health scientists to investigate the origins of the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic. They concluded that bats are the reservoir species for SARSr-CoVs, and it was these viruses that infected people and civets being sold for consumption in live animal markets, leading to the SARS outbreak. The findings published today provide early evidence that conditions exist for SARS spillover in other areas outside Guangdong as well.

These findings come as the World Health Organization updated its R&D Blueprint list of priority pathogens, i.e. those that should be prioritized for global research. The list includes coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). It also includes Disease X, which represents the global health community’s understanding that the next pandemic could likely come from a pathogen currently unknown to infect humans. There are currently an estimated 1.67 million unknown viruses on Earth.

These findings highlight the importance of EcoHealth Alliance’s global biosurveillance work. Scientists and local partners are currently testing human and animal specimens for known and unknown pathogens in over 15 countries in an attempt to stop the next pandemic before it begins.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance's rigorous, science-based approach working in more than 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance's strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.
Press contact: Anthony Ramos, (212) 380-4469 or ramos@ecohealthalliance.org

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