BEIJING, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Researchers in China say a species of Chinese bat was the cause of the 2002 SARS outbreak, during which an estimated 800 people died.
The international group of researchers, led by Chinese researcher Shi Zhengli, said the rufous horseshoe bat, a species widespread in China and southeast Asia, was responsible for the spread of the SARS coronavirus in 2002, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.
It had generally been thought SARS was spread by palm civets, a cat-like mammal sold at live animal markets in China.
The researchers said they found horseshoe bats to be natural hosts of coronaviruses closely related to SARS and that they are the likely original hosts of SARS.
The best way to protect against illnesses spread by bats and other wild animals is to protect their habitat, the researchers said.