Royal Society Publishing

Animal origins of SARS coronavirus: possible links with the international trade in small carnivores

Diana Bell, Scott Roberton, Paul R. Hunter

Abstract

The search for animal host origins of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus has so far remained focused on wildlife markets, restaurants and farms within China. A significant proportion of this wildlife enters China through an expanding regional network of illegal, international wildlife trade. We present the case for extending the search for ancestral coronaviruses and their hosts across international borders into countries such as Vietnam and Lao People's Democratic Republic, where the same guilds of species are found on sale in similar wildlife markets or food outlets. The three species that have so far been implicated, a viverrid, a mustelid and a canid, are part of a large suite of small carnivores distributed across this region currently overexploited by this international wildlife trade. A major lesson from SARS is that the underlying roots of newly emergent zoonotic diseases may lie in the parallel biodiversity crisis of massive species loss as a result of overexploitation of wild animal populations and the destruction of their natural habitats by increasing human populations. To address these dual threats to the long–term future of biodiversity, including man, requires a less anthropocentric and more interdisciplinary approach to problems that require the combined research expertise of ecologists, conservation biologists, veterinarians, epidemiologists, virologists, as well as human health professionals.

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