Following the outbreak of Coronavirus which is currently spreading from its source in Asia accross the world, scientists are trying to figure out where it has come from, and exactly how it transferred from the animal kingdom to humans.
So far, scientists have ascertained that the virus has been transmitted inter-species – or that is has ‘host jumped’ – from animals to humans, making it a ‘Zoonotic’ virus. Whilst widely reported that this likely came from a bat, it has not been confirmed. Bats are believed to be the original carrier of the former SARS virus and of many other ‘coronaviruses’ due to their particular animal behaviours, such as living in large colonies and covering large distance by flight.
Providing that the virus was originally carried by bats, scientists believe that it unlikely that its first human transmission arose out of direct contact with the notoriously tricky-to-catch mammals. Rather, it is understood that the bats may have transmitted the disease among other wild species more likely to be handled by humans.
In fact, it has been suggested by some that bats may have passed the virus on to pangolins, which are poached from the wild to be illegally trafficked to places where their scales and meat are either considered a delicacy, or a form of medicine. This black market trade is completely unregulated and so it would be difficult to trace the transaction where the transmission occurred. It is believed that of the many places that pangolins are trafficked to, Wuhan in China is one, and is also – perhaps coincidentally – where the virus first presented in humans.
Scientists are attempting to prove the truth of this scenario as they work to find wild animals carrying the virus but finding the sequence of events is “a bit of a detective story”, according to Prof Andrew Cunningham of Zoological Society London (ZSL).
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Main Image: Ground Pangolin at Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, David Brossard, Flickr Creative Commons
By Sofi Summers