Coronavirus outbreak could be linked to bat soup say scientists

CORONAVIRUS could have spread from bat soup to humans, experts have claimed.

Scientists in China, where the deadly coronavirus has killed 26 people, believe the bug shares a common ancestor with a virus found only in fruit bats.

Footage and images have since been circulated purporting to show people eating the Chinese delicacy.

The outbreak of coronavirus began in the city of Wuhan – which has since been put in lockdown after more than 800 people were infected globally.

Bat soup is reported to be an unusual but popular dish particularly in Wuhan, where the virus is understood to have originated at an open air fish market.

And scientists claim that the delicacy may have sparked the outbreak.

Unusual delicacy

A new study published in the China Science Bulletin earlier this week claimed that the new coronavirus shared a strain of virus found in bats.

Previous deadly outbreaks of SARS and Ebola were also believed to have originated in the flying mammal.

Experts had thought the new virus wasn't capable of causing an epidemic as serious as those outbreaks because its genes were different.

But this research appeared to prove otherwise, while scientists scrabble to produce a vaccine – something that could take at least a year.

The new study was carried out jointly by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Liberation Army and Institut Pasteur of Shanghai.

It revealed that the virus has a "strong binding affinity" to a human protein called ACE2.

The researchers said that this binding protein had a high resemblance to that of SARS – which killed almost 800 and infected 8,000 people worldwide in 2002-2003.

They also traced the evolution of the new strain of coronavirus in a government database and found that on the evolutionary tree, it belonged to Betacoronavirus.

The two shared about 70 to 80 per cent of genes, less than the similarity between pigs and humans.

Their findings suggest that the danger posed by the new strain of coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, may have been underestimated in the research community.

In a statement, the researchers said: “The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate."

But a senior researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who asked not to be named, said the findings should be treated with caution.

He told the South China Morning Post: “It is based on calculation by a computer model.

“Whether it will match what happens in real life is inconclusive.

“The binding protein is important, but it is just one of the many things under investigation. There may be other proteins involved.”

The expert believes that the new strain was an RNA virus, meaning that its mutation speed was 100 times faster than that of a DNA virus such as smallpox.

Jumped from snakes?

Scientists at Peking University also claim that the deadly virus was passed to humans from bats – via snakes, which are sold at the open-air market in Wuhan.

The researchers said that the new 2019-nCoV strain is made up of a combination of one that affects bats and another unknown coronavirus.

They believe that combined genetic material from both picked up a protein that allows viruses bind to certain host cells – including those of humans.

After analysing the genes of the strains the team found that snakes were susceptible to the most similar version of the coronavirus.

It meant that they likely provided a "reservoir" for the viral strain to grow stronger and replicate.

Snakes are sold at the Huanan Seafood Market in central Wuhan – where the deadly outbreak is thought to have started – and may have jumped to other animals before passing to humans, they say.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Virology, the authors said: "Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV.

"New information obtained from our evolutionary analysis is highly significant for effective control of the outbreak caused by the 2019-nCoV-induced pneumonia."


It comes as the city of Wuhan was put into lockdown as the Chinese authorities desperately try to contain the virus.

Residents in nearby Huanggang have also been told not to leave the city other than under special circumstances.

At airports in other cities with direct flights to Wuhan, body temperatures of passengers arriving from China have been closely monitored.

But travellers arriving in the UK from the city were given leaflets explaining how they can seek help if they become unwell while in the UK.

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an airborne virus, spread in a similar way to colds and the flu.

The virus attacks the respiratory system, causing lung lesions.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

It is incredibly contagious and is spread through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

In most cases, you won't know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.

There is no vaccine for coronavirus.

In 2003 an outbreak of a similar virus, SARS, infected more than 8,000 people in 37 countries before it was brought under control, killing 800 of those worldwide.

Disease expert Professor Neil Ferguson fears the coronavirus could already have arrived in the UK on one of the three flights a week from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

Aircraft from the Chinese city are landing in an isolated area of Heathrow Terminal 4 to limit the potential spread of the infection.

Officials say they have no plans to introduce blanket temperature screening of all passengers – as the measure has failed in the past.

Public Health England has upgraded the coronavirus risk to the UK from "very low" to "low".

The infection, linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, has spread to Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Prof Ferguson, from Imperial College London, is now forecasting up to 9,700 could become infected.

He claimed up two people in every 100 infected could die, which is comparable to the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.

That was the deadliest pandemic in recent history, wiping out 50million people worldwide.

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