updated 9/11/2005 7:58:11 PM ET 2005-09-11T23:58:11

Bats carrying a SARS-like virus are unlikely to pass it on to humans because they’re too shy, a microbiologist said Saturday.

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Yuen Kwok-yung — who led a University of Hong Kong study into the severe acute respiratory syndrome — said bats tend to live in tunnels and caves and shy away from human contact.

“They are afraid of humans and they need a large number of insects, mosquitoes and so on to feed on, so they won’t approach you for no reason,” Yuen said.

Yuen’s study showed about half of the 25 proteins found in Chinese horseshoe bats are 98 percent the same as those in the SARS virus found in humans.

A SARS outbreak that began in China in late 2002 killed 774 people worldwide, including 299 in Hong Kong.

Bat feces are used in Chinese medicine, but Yuen said if the excrement is properly prepared at high temperatures the virus should be killed.

The findings of the Hong Kong researchers are to be published in The Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences journal.

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