Coronavirus is reaching pandemic levels, with he virus now infecting at least 20,500 people. More than 400 people have lost their lives as a result of the outbreak, with experts struggling to contain the new strain of the virus known as 2019-nCoV.
However, two new studies have revealed the virus is more similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) – which is part of the coronavirus family.
Between November 2002 and July 2003, a major outbreak of SARS occurred in southern China.
More than 770 people across the globe died as a result of the disease, most of which came from China, with almost 8,100 infections.
The virus was believed to have come from bats, who transferred it to civets, a small mammal who lives in the forests of Asia, before humans caught it.
Now experts say nCoV and SARS are virtually the same, with a few differences – and they could even have the same origin.
The major difference, according to Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, is that nCoV is more viral, but less damaging.
Mr Jones, who was not involved in either study, added this could mean a vaccine for SARS should work for nCoV – also known as the Wuhan virus, as the first cases were reported in the Chinese province.
Mr Jones said: “In essence, it’s a version of SARS that spreads more easily but causes less damage.
“This indicates that treatments and vaccines developed for SARS should work for the Wuhan virus.
“The virus also uses the same receptor, the door used to get into human cells, which explains transmission and why it causes pneumonia.”
A study from China’s Fudan University analysed a 41-year-old man in China who was admitted to hospital on December 26, 2019, with the Wuhan virus.
A sample of the virus was taken from his lungs, where it underwent genome sequencing.
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The researchers discovered that the Wuhan virus shared an 89.1 percent similarity in genome sequences with the SARS-like coronavirus from bats.
The authors of the study stated: “This outbreak highlights the ongoing capacity of viral spill-over from animals to cause severe disease in humans.”
A separate study from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China analysed samples from seven patients, six of whom were workers at a seafood market in Wuhan.
The researchers found that the new strain was 96 percent identical to coronaviruses found in bats.
Mr Jones added that scientists now likely have the culprit of the cause of the virus.
He said: “2019-nCoV is a bat virus, and SARS-CoV, which caused an epidemic in 2002 and 2003, is the closest relative seen previously in people.”
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