Coronavirus may have been transmitted to people from snakes – As China is looking for answers to the coronavirus, and as countries, the world over take steps to protect themselves from any outbreak of the virus, new emerging information says the virus could have been transmitted to humans from a snake.
While 444 of the cases have been reported in Wuhan, cases have also been confirmed in the surrounding regions, with 26 in Guangdong province, 14 in Beijing and 9 in Shanghai. Internationally, confirmed cases have been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and the US. Hundreds more are suspected and attempts to diagnose the cases are underway.
The source of the infection is suspected to be a food market in Wuhan visited by several of those first infected with the virus. The market is known to sell live wild and farmed animals, including marmots, birds, rabbits, bats, and snakes.
To find out if the virus might have come from one of these species, Wei Ji and colleagues at Peking University in China compared the genomes of five samples of the new virus with 217 similar viruses collected from a range of species.
The team’s analysis suggests that the new virus looks similar to those found in bats, but is most like viruses seen in snakes, genetically speaking. “Results derived from our sequence analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most likely wildlife animal reservoir,” the team wrote.
“We are excited about this new speculation,” says Haitao Guo at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who reviewed the study. “We need more experimental evidence, but it gives us a clue,” he says.
The virus may then have passed to people through the air, says Rabinowitz. “It’s still speculation, but if the virus is in the secretions or feces of the snakes, it would be possible to aerosolize and be breathed in if there were enough snakes and enough people,” he says.
On 22 January, the World Health Organization held an emergency committee on the new virus, which is in the same family as SARS and MERS. Following the meeting, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he needed more information on the virus and its spread before he could declare the outbreak a public health emergency.
“This is an evolving and complex situation,” Ghebreyesus said. “The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”
The emergency committee will meet again tomorrow, and Ghebreyesus promises they “will have much more to say” then.