What Animal Did SARS Come From? Unveiling The Origin!

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a viral respiratory illness caused by coronavirus. It is a contagious and potentially deadly disease that can rapidly spread from person to person. The outbreak of SARS has been of great concern since it first appeared in Guangdong Province of China in 2002.

The origin of the SARS virus has been a mystery for a long time. In this article, we will explore the question – What animal did SARS come from? We will delve into the research, studies and discoveries made so far, all aimed at unravelling the origin of the SARS virus. We will also discuss the implications of our findings and how we can prevent future outbreaks.

The Beginning of SARS

SARS first appeared in Guangdong Province in China in November 2002. Initially, it was believed to be an outbreak of atypical pneumonia since its symptoms included high fever, coughing, and breathing difficulties. The outbreak quickly spread to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and other countries, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing at least 774. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global health threat.

The SARS virus is a member of the coronavirus family, which also includes the viruses that cause common colds. However, SARS is much more severe than a common cold, and it can cause severe respiratory distress, leading to death. The virus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets, and there is no specific cure for the disease.

Animal Reservoirs for SARS

The origin of the SARS virus is thought to be animals, specifically bats. Bats are known to be natural hosts of coronaviruses and are capable of transmitting the viruses to other animals and humans. In the case of SARS, civets and raccoon dogs were suspected as intermediary hosts that enabled the virus to jump to humans. These animals were being traded as exotic food items in the markets that were thought to be the source of the outbreak.

Further research on the SARS virus genome has provided more evidence for bats being the natural reservoirs for the virus. Researchers found that the SARS virus is closely related to two coronaviruses found in bats, the Chinese horseshoe bat, and the civet cat bat. The genetic makeup of the virus isolated from humans is almost identical to that of the virus found in civets and horseshoe bats in the wild.

The Role of Civets as Intermediate Hosts

Civets were identified as the most likely intermediate hosts for SARS due to the high prevalence of the virus in the animals being sold in markets. However, the discovery of the virus in wild civets is limited to certain regions, which indicates that not all civets are potentially involved in spreading the virus.

Researchers investigated the transmission of the virus to civets, finding that the virus replicated intensely in the lung tissue of the animals. They also found that the virus could be transmitted to other civets in close proximity, increasing the risk of the virus mutating and spreading.

Other Animals Suspected of Carrying SARS

Several viruses related to SARS have since been discovered in other animals. In 2005, researchers identified a SARS-like coronavirus in Himalayan palm civets in India. Bats showed to be carriers of viruses that can potentially lead to a human health risk. In 2013, bats in China were found to harbor SARS-like coronaviruses genetically similar to the human SARS virus.

Why Did the SARS Outbreak Happen?

The SARS outbreak was a result of a combination of factors. Firstly, the Chinese wet markets where animals were sold in Guangzhou and other cities had poor hygiene and sanitation conditions, which allowed the virus to spread rapidly.

These markets were also responsible for the large-scale trading and handling of multiple species of animals. The close proximity between different species of animals increased the likelihood of cross-species transmission of viruses, leading to the transmission of the SARS virus from one species to another and ultimately to humans.

Additionally, the live animal trade, where animals were packed in cages and transported in unhygienic conditions, facilitated the transmission of viruses between animals and to humans. The combination of these factors created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence and spread of novel viruses like the SARS virus.

Preventing Future Outbreaks of SARS-like Diseases

The world has learned some lessons from the SARS outbreak. A prompt response and global cooperation have helped to prevent the spread of SARS beyond the initial outbreak areas in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Countries have also adopted measures aimed at reducing human-animal interactions to prevent future outbreaks.

The Chinese government banned the trade and consumption of civets and prohibited the trade in wildlife for public consumption. Other countries have followed suit, banning trade in exotic wildlife or at least calling for heightened hygiene and monitoring in live animal markets. These measures will hopefully minimize the risk of future outbreaks.


SARS was a wake-up call for the world to take steps toward better preparedness and management of infectious diseases. Understanding the origin of the SARS virus is essential in designing interventions that can prevent future outbreaks.

The evidence suggests that the virus originated in bats and was transmitted to humans through an intermediate host, most likely a civet. Over the years, it has become clear that we need to adopt more preventive measures, such as maintaining good hygiene and monitoring for zoonotic diseases in animals sold in wet markets. It is, therefore, crucial to factor in such measures in the quest for sustainable development.

  • What was the origin of the SARS virus?
    • The SARS virus is thought to have originated in bats.
  • What animals carry SARS-like viruses?
    • Bats have been found to carry coronaviruses similar to SARS, and palm civets have been identified as potential intermediary hosts of the virus.
  • What led to the outbreak of the SARS virus?
    • The outbreak of the SARS virus was due to the combination of factors such as lack of hygiene, animal-human interactions and the live animal trade industry.


  1. 1. Lau, S. K., Woo, P. C., & Yuen, K. Y. (2005). Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus as an agent of emerging and reemerging infection. Clinical microbiology reviews, 18(2), 186-209.
  2. 2. Li, W., Shi, Z., Yu, M., Ren, W., Smith, C., Epstein, J. H., … & Zhang, J. (2005). Bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. Science, 310(5748), 676-679.
  3. 3. Yang, L., Wu, Z., Ren, X., Yang, F., Zhang, J., He, G., … & Zhang, Y. (2017). MERS-related Betacoronavirus in Vespertilio superans bats, China. Emerging infectious diseases, 23(3), 463-467.

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