Colds and flu

Updated 04 October 2017

SARS-like virus in bats could jump to humans

Studies have predicted the existence of nearly 5,000 coronaviruses in bat populations, and some of these have the potential to emerge as human pathogens.

A newly identified SARS-like virus in bats appears to be able to jump to humans without mutation, new research suggests.

However, it's not yet clear whether it would then be able to spread from person to person, the researchers said.

How prepared are we?

A worldwide outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003 was caused by a coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans.

That outbreak resulted in 8,000 infections and nearly 800 deaths, the researchers noted.

Read: Symptoms of SARS 

"Studies have predicted the existence of nearly 5,000 coronaviruses in bat populations, and some of these have the potential to emerge as human pathogens," senior study author Ralph Baric, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a university news release.

"So this is not a situation of 'if' there will be an outbreak of one of these coronaviruses, but rather when and how prepared we'll be to address it," Baric added.

Baric and his colleagues looked at how the SARS-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats behaves.

Read: What have we learnt from SARS

They found that it enters the bodies of bats and humans in the same way. The researchers also noted that this virus replicates as well as the SARS virus in primary human lung cells, the preferred target for infection.

There is no treatment for the newly discovered SARS-like virus, the researchers said.

The findings are important in light of ongoing debate over a U.S. government decision that considerably slows the development of vaccines or treatments for potentially dangerous coronaviruses, the researchers said.

Baric said "building resources, rather than limiting them, to both examine animal populations for new threats and develop therapeutics is key for limiting future outbreaks."

The study was published in Nature Medicine.

Read more:

4 fascinating flu maps  

Sars-like virus spreads from patient to nurse  

New coronavirus more deadly than Sars 


Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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