Hantavirus causes flu-like symptoms which can bring on respiratory and kidney failure in humans. It usually appears as sporadic disease outbreaks such as that in 1993 in a US region bordering New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
"Our research describes four novel hantaviruses, sampled from bats and shrews in China, which are distinct from known hantaviruses," says study co-author Eddie Holmes, professor and Australia Fellow at the University of Sydney, the journal Public Library of Science Pathogen reports.
"Hantavirus is a major threat to global health, making information that adds to our poor understanding of how it evolved and is transmitted an important contribution to fighting the disease," adds Holmes.
The finding also suggests there may be additional unrecognised hantaviruses circulating in a wide range of animal hosts, particularly bats, and that the hantaviruses frequently jump hosts, according to a Sydney statement.
The new international research on hantavirus is led by researchers at the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention to which Holmes contributed.