The new Coronavirus outbreak might have come from snakes, say researchers

The new variant of Coronavirus was first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Ever since then the deadly infectious respiratory illness has been rapidly spreading to different parts of the world through sick travellers from Wuhan. Now the deadly disease has even reached the US. 

A new study is telling us that snakes – the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra – may be the original source of the newly discovered virus.

The new virus comes from a family of viruses of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which have killed hundreds of people in the past 17 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

Coronavirus is transmitted through the air and is known to infect the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of mammals and birds. Though most of the members of the coronavirus family only cause mild flu-like symptoms during infection, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can infect both upper and lower airways and cause severe respiratory illness and other complications in humans.

The 2019-nCoV is also showing symptoms similar to the SARS-CoV and the MERS-CoV. Reported2019-nCoV patients are suffering from a severe inflammatory response.

The lack of an approved vaccine or antiviral treatment for the infection makes it all the more dangerous. The only option we have before us is to understand the life cycle of the new virus and its transmission methods to effectively prevent and treat the disease.

Both the previous Corona family diseases- SARS and MERS are classified as a zoonotic viral disease. The first patients who were infected acquired the infection directly from animals. Studies have revealed bats, masked palm civets and camels to be the original source of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV

The first outbreak, when reported in 2019, was centred around a local seafood market. The market sold other types of meat along with fish. Since there has been no report of a coronavirus infecting aquatic animals the researchers assumed the source to be some other animal meat.

In the study published in the Journal of Medical Virology, researchers conducted an analysis and compared the genetic sequences of 2019-nCoV and all other known coronaviruses. They found that the new virus is most closely related to two bat SARS-like coronavirus samples from China, suggesting initially that the new outbreak came from bats.

But a more detailed bioinformatics analysis of the sequence of 2019-nCoV later suggested that the virus might have come from snakes. Now researchers believe the snakes got affected through bats as snakes hunt for bats in the wild.

This all leads to the possibility of bat transmitting the disease to snakes and humans picking it up from snakes. However for the scientists, how the virus could adapt to both the cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts remains a mystery.

More experiments using DNA samples collected from the market have to be conducted to confirm the study’s findings. Researchers are hopeful that this will aid in finding preventive and treatment measures for this new disease.

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