Coronavirus Outbreak May Have Originated in Snakes, New Research Finds
As cases of the mysterious and deadly coronavirus continue to appear across the world, scientists have pinpointed a potential source of the newly discovered infection: snakes.
A study published Wednesday by Chinese scientists in the Journal of Medical Virology found that the respiratory infection may have originated in the Chinese krait — a highly venomous specious found in central and southern China and Southeast Asia — and the Chinese cobra, CNN reported.
Researchers looked at the protein codes in the ongoing coronavirus — known as 2019-nCoV — and compared them with protein codes from coronaviruses in animals such as birds, snakes, marmots, hedgehogs, manis, bats and humans, the outlet explained.
After analyzing these sequences, scientists discovered the protein codes in the coronavirus were most similar to those in the Chinese krait and Chinese cobra.
“Our findings suggest that the snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir,” the study explained.
These findings support Chinese health officials’ initial belief that the coronavirus was transmitted from animal to human, most likely at a food market in Wuhan where the first case of the virus was identified.
According to the study, there is a possibility that these snakes were sold in the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market that could have then transferred the virus to humans.
The widespread virus recently infected a man in Washington state, marking the first case in the United States.
The patient, in his 30s, had recently traveled to Wuhan — the presumed origin of the virus — and returned to the U.S. on Jan. 15. After reading about the virus online he went to his doctor on Sunday and tested positive for coronavirus, Washington health officials said Tuesday in a media call.
The patient, who lives just outside of Seattle, “right now is characterized as very healthy,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control. He was transferred to Providence Medical Center in Everett, Washington, but is doing well, said Washington health official Dr. Scott Lindquist.
The CDC and Washington health officials are now looking into anyone who may have come in contact with the patient over the last six days. He took multiple flights in his return to the U.S. before completing his trip at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
However, health officials said that they “believe the risk to the public is low.”
There have been around 300 confirmed cases of coronavirus across Asia and six deaths as of Tuesday.
The U.S. patient said that he did not visit any markets in Wuhan.
Coronaviruses is a term applied to a variety of viruses that include the common cold and more severe illnesses such as SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.
The symptoms typically include respiratory problems, trouble breathing, fever and coughing.
The CDC said Monday that they will start health screenings at San Francisco International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and Los Angeles International Airport. During the media call on Tuesday, they said they will expand those screenings to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.