A 2007 study published by researchers at the prestigious Hong Kong University precisely predicted the emergence of a coronavirus outbreak from bats and exotic mammals in China that are known to possess a wide variety of viruses.
Virologists have said that the novel coronavirus likely stems from Chinese horseshoe bats based on the structure of the virus. 13 years ago, researchers pointed out the exact specie of bats and warned that the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak cannot be dismissed.
The study, entitled “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Reemerging Infection” published on the Clinical Microbiology Reviews Journal in 2007, said that the culture of consuming exotic animals in Southern China is a time bomb.
The researchers wrote:
Coronaviruses are well known to undergo genetic recombination, which may lead to new genotypes and outbreaks. The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.
Bats, specifically horseshoe bats, have consistently been described as an important reservoir of viruses since early 2000s.
Another study published by the American Society For Microbiology’s Clinical Microbiology Reviews Journal emphasized that bats always carry the risk of “spilling over” their viruses to humans and other animals.
The study found:
Bats also are being increasingly recognized as reservoir hosts for viruses which can cross species barriers (i.e., “spill over”) to infect humans and other domestic and wild mammals.
To lower the probability of the reemergence of coronavirus in the future, the findings of past studies suggest the necessity to minimize interaction with bats and specifically the consumption of exotic mammals.
In many regions, tens of thousands of individuals depend on bats for livelihood; the feces (guano) of bats are often in high demand from farmers as fertilizers. After collecting guano, bats are typically captured to be sold as commercial meat.
Several countries including Thailand have made it illegal to capture or eat bats due to the viruses contained in the animal.
Still, a study on the Infection Ecology and Epidemiology Journal said that many people trap bats in caves or orchards for consumption.
The study read:
In recent years, it has become illegal to trap or eat bats. In spite of this, most respondents knew people in the community who had trapped bats, usually at the mouths of caves or in fruit orchards, and/or had eaten bats, although they said this was less common since the regulations went into effect.
To prevent the reemergence of coronavirus in the future, it is of the utmost importance for authorities to enforce strict prohibitions on interacting with bats, especially species that contain a significant amount of viruses.