Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)

SARS and COVID-19 : new zoonotic outbreaks emerging from bat reservoirs

SARS and COVID-19 are two severe human diseases with coronaviruses SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 as causative agents, respectively. Both viruses are taxonomically closely related betacoronaviruses originating from zoonotic spill-over events of their ancestors, which are representatives of a huge number of coronaviruses present in bat reservoirs. Although until the identification of SARS as a new human disease entity, coronaviruses generally were considered mild human pathogens, but had been recognized as major pathogens for some animal species. 

SARS and COVID-19 outbreaks both emerged in China, probably from wet markets, facilitated by conditions that favor interspecies spill-over due to direct or indirect contacts between wildlife species and humans. Both pathogens have demonstrated their ability to not only infect wildlife species and humans but to occasionally spillover from humans to pet and farmed carnivore species. 

Despite numerous similarities between SARS and COVID-19, there are major differences in their epidemiological characteristics. The case fatality rate of the SARS epidemic is estimated to be approximately tenfold higher than that of COVID-19. However, less than 800 people died from SARS, whereas about half a million people succumbed to COVID-19 worldwide in the first half year of the ongoing pandemic. The explosive spread of SARS-CoV-2 was at least in part facilitated by transmission without or before onset of symptoms, which hindered implementation of effective control measures. 

To be better prepared for future epidemics and pandemics originating from zoonotic pathogens like SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, preparing in „peacetime“ is crucial while profiting from state-of-the-art scientific knowledge and international collaboration in a One Health approach. 

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