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Evolutionary history of SARS supports bats as virus source
Date:2/19/2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio Scientists who have studied the genome of the virus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) say their comparisons to related viruses offer new evidence that the virus infecting humans originated in bats.

The analysis tracing the viruses paths through human and animal hosts counters assertions that SARS was eradicated in 2004 when thousands of palm civet cats in China were identified as the original source and killed in an effort to eliminate the risk of new outbreaks.

According to this new analysis, humans actually appear to be the source of the virus found in those civets, a wild game animal considered a delicacy in southern China.

SARS infected more than 8,000 and killed more than 900 people worldwide during a nine-month outbreak that ended in the summer of 2003, according to the World Health Organization. No human infections have been reported since early 2004.

Finding the origin of SARS is key to fully understanding how the global outbreak occurred, and it is critical to worldwide efforts aimed at preventing future illnesses that could infect and kill millions of people, said Daniel Janies, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Ohio State University.

Certainly, there are undiscovered viruses closely related to SARS and these viruses have novel associations with host animals that remain unknown. Our lack of knowledge of viral and host diversity around the world is a source of concern for the re-emergence of a SARS-like disease, Janies said.

To further illustrate the speed of the SARS outbreak as part of the investigation, Janies and colleagues also designed an interactive map that traces the genetic, geographic and evolutionary history of SARS. The map also shows when and where the virus shifted from animal to human hosts. The map is projected onto a virtual globe using Google Earth and can be downloaded at:

Contact: Daniel Janies
Daniel.Janies@osumc.edu
614-292-1202
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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