A mystery germ that killed nearly 25,000 piglets in China in 2016/17, came from horseshoe bats, the same species that gave us the deadly human SARS virus, researchers said Wednesday.
The finding, based on genetic analysis, underlined the urgency of tracking viruses in animal "reservoirs" such as bats, they wrote in the science journal Nature.
"This study highlights the importance of identifying coronavirus diversity and distribution in bats to mitigate future outbreaks that could threaten livestock, public health, and economic growth," said the paper.
The researchers used DNA to pinpoint the cause of a mysterious disease that caused diarrhoea, vomiting, and death in piglets in China's Guangdong Province.
They identified a never-before-seen coronavirus which they dubbed Swine Acute Diarrhea Syndrome (SADS). It does not appear to sicken humans.
The virus, the team found, came from horseshoe bats in a region near the birthplace of SARS - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - some 15 years ago.
Highly infectious and deadly, the SARS virus killed nearly 800, almost one in ten.
Many new human infectious diseases - including SARS and Ebola - have an animal origin.
The study findings should serve as "a warning of viral interspecies transmission between wildlife and domestic animals," study co-author Zhengli Shi told AFP.
It also underlined "the importance of long-term surveillance for viruses in their natural reservoirs."
This does not mean we should go out and kill all horseshoe bats, added Shi.
"Wildlife is important in ecosystems," she told AFP. "It's normal that wildlife carry many viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. As long as human society keeps away from wildlife, there is (a) very low chance of interspecies transmission."