Hong Kong researchers have further confirmed that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a zoonotic disease and the SARS coronavirus has mutated in animals before transmitting to human.
The ground-breaking research was published Friday in Science magazine by the American Association for the advancement of Science.
The important findings were contained in a paper titled "Isolation and characterization of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus from animal in southern China," which was written by ateam from the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong.
The researchers collected 25 animal samples from a number of shops in the live animal retail market.
They successfully isolated SARS-like conovirus from 4 palm civet cats. These viruses were sequenced and compared with 11 existing genomes of the conovirus that cause SARS in humans.
While the animal and human viruses were closely related, genetic analysis showed clear differences and suggested that the SARS coronavirus was derived from the virus resident in animals.
In addition to civet cats, a raccoon-dog, a ferret badger, and some of the workers at the same market showed evidence of infection with a coronavirus similar to the human SARS virus. None of them showing evidence of infection by this coronavirus reported SARS-like symptoms in the last six months.
These important findings further confirmed that SARS is a zoonotic disease and the SARS coronavirus has mutated in animals before transmitting to human.
The researchers made the following recommendations: to enhance screening programs in live animal markets for animal virus; to put more resources to support the research on animal and human vaccine to prevent and control further SARS cases worldwide; to enforce stricter measures on live animal farming, to use proper fencing toisolate farm animals from wild animals to prevent cross infection; and to cook the meat thoroughly before eating.