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So They Figured Out Where SARS Came From

It wasn't the palm civets or cats, after all.
Lesser horseshoe bat via Jessicajil/Flickr

If you need a reason to be afraid of bats—just in case the drinking blood, being a vector for rabies or falling into a well full of them as a child don’t do it for you—researchers have traced the SARS virus back to horseshoe bats in China.

They isolated two close relatives of the SARS coronavirus from Chinese horseshoe bats’ guano. Genetic sequencing had found SARS-like coronaviruses in bats from China to Europe and Africa, but none were considered the source of SARS. But according to a report just published in Nature, the newly discovered cornonaviruses is far closer to the SARS-CoV, at around 95 percent genetic similarity.

The 2002-2003 SARS pandemic saw over 8,000 cases worldwide, 774 of which were fatal. Similar coronaviruses were found in palm civets, a omnivorous, tree-bound mammal that is sold in food markets in Guangdong, China, which lead to the killing of more than 10,000 palm civets. Variations of the virus were also found in raccoon dogs and domestic cats.

Personally, I feel bats are pretty unfairly maligned. I mean, the vast majority don’t drink blood, only 0.5 percent of them carry rabies, and falling into a well is scary no matter what lives down there. But the researchers point out that this virus is a good reason to give bats a wide berth, by preserving their habitat so they aren’t forced to live and hunt among people, which facilitates the spread of viruses.

Seems reasonable, after all, like sharks, tigers or any other animal we might fear, they’ve got a lot more reason to be afraid of us than vice versa.