A fatal disease that killed over 24,000 pigs in China last year was caused by a virus that originated in bats, a study published online this week in Nature suggests. The study underscores the value of proactively monitoring viral infections in bats and, more generally, wildlife to veterinary health, public health and global economies.
Four farms in China’s Guandong Province were affected by the disease, which causes Swine Acute Diarrhoea Syndrome (SADS), resulting in diarrhoea, vomiting and death in infected piglets. Zheng-Li Shi and colleagues have pinpointed the cause, a newly discovered coronavirus called SADS-CoV, whose genome is 98% identical to that of a coronavirus that was isolated from horseshoe bats in 2016 in a cave close to the pig farm where the outbreak originated.
Bats are an important reservoir for emerging viruses. Horseshoe bats were the reservoir for the SARS coronavirus that killed more than 700 people around 15 years ago. The recent swine disease outbreaks occurred relatively close to where the first case of SARS is thought to have occurred. This highlights the unique nature of southern China as a hotspot for novel emerging diseases. With the outbreak ongoing, the study highlights just how important it is to understand the diversity of viruses that are harboured by bats and other wildlife.