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Where Did the New Coronavirus Come From? Potentially a Bat, Snake, or Pangolin

by Oregon State Media

Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like shape, and were first identified in the mid-1960s. The virus typically causes respiratory illnesses like the common cold. A new studyTrusted Source found the virus may have originated in bats and then spread to humans via a snake or pangolin.

Seven coronaviruses are known to infect humans. Editor's note: This is a developing story that's been updated since it was first published. Healthline will continue to update this article when there's new information.

The coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, is baffling experts searching for the source. Since the virus is considered novel, it's a type of virus that has never been encountered before.

Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like shape, and were first identified in the mid-1960s. The virus typically causes respiratory illnesses like the common cold.

In the beginning, many of those infected worked or shopped at a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, China, which also sold live and freshly slaughtered animals.

This is why experts suspect it crossed to humans from an animal host.

Did coronavirus come from pangolins? According to Chinese state media, researchers at South China Agricultural University have analyzed over 1,000 metagenome samples of wild animals to find pangolins, a type of anteater, are the most likely intermediate host of the novel coronavirus.

"They found that the sequence of the coronavirus strain assembled from metagenomes was 99 percent identical to that of infected people in the recent coronavirus outbreak," reported state media.

Shen Yongyi, a professor with the university and member of the research team, told the Xinhua news service that although previous research found the novel coronavirus originated in bats, the animals hibernate in winter, making it unlikely that they caused the current outbreak.

However, the actual study hasn't been published. So far, the university has only issued a press release.

"The evidence for the potential involvement of pangolins in the outbreak has not been published, other than by a university press release," said Professor James Wood, PhD, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge in a statement. "This is not scientific evidence; investigations into animal reservoirs are extremely important, but results must then be published for international scrutiny to allow proper consideration. Simply reporting detection of viral RNA with sequence similarity of >99 percent is not sufficient."

Bats may be the original source of the virus A study publishedTrusted Source Jan. 30, in The Lancet, finds strong evidence that bats are where the infection actually originated.

According to study authors, the infection could still have been passed to humans through an intermediary animal. A previous study theorized that it went through snakes before being passed on to humans.

"Although our phylogenetic analysis suggests that bats might be the original host of this virus, an animal sold at the seafood market in Wuhan might represent an intermediate host facilitating the emergence of the virus in humans," wrote the study authors.

Bats have an unfortunate history of passing potentially deadly pathogens to human hosts.

A 2017 article in NatureTrusted Source explains how virologists identified a single population of horseshoe bats harboring virus strains with all the genetic building blocks of the SARS virus that jumped to humans in 2002. That worldwide outbreak killed almost 800 people.

Research publishedTrusted Source in Emerging Infectious Diseases confirms that many African bats are also reservoirs of the incredibly dangerous Ebola virus.

"Whenever a species jump appears, whenever a virus jumps from one species to another — that species will not initially have a well-developed immunity to the virus. As time passes our ability to fight the new virus increases," Dr. Waleed Javaid, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Mount Sinai in New York, told Healthline.


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