What led to the outbreak of the Wuhan Coronavirus
The number of cases and deaths related to coronavirus has increased in the last few days. The cases are being reported from many Asian countries as well as from the Middle East, Europe, Australia and the US.
The situation has triggered panic but the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet declared the novel coronavirus disease to be a public health emergency.
Coronaviruses cause illnesses from common cold to the more severe Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
What led to the outbreak
On December 31, WHO was informed about several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, China. Strangely, the virus did not match any other viruses known to man, raising concerns because no one knew how it affected people.
A week later, on January 7, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified the new virus as being a coronavirus. They named it 2019-nCoV. The current outbreak’s epicenter is believed to be a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan.
Multiple reports pinpoint that most of the initial patients who were hospitalised were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market which also sold processed meats and live consumable animals including poultry, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles.
Since being first detected, scientists have narrowed down the causes of Coronavirus to a potential laboratory leak in Wuhan and cross-species transmission of the pathogen from bats or snakes and from there, eventually to humans.
As per a report published in the Journal of Medical virology, scientists conducted an analysis and compared the genetic sequences of the virus to other known coronaviruses.
They found that the novel coronavirus were most closely related to two bat SARS-like coronavirus samples from China, hinting that much like SARS and MERS, the bat might be the origin of the novel coronavirus.
However, detailed analysis, pointed elsewhere.
Analysing the protein codes of the nCOV, and comparing it with protein codes from coronaviruses found in different animals, including snakes, scientists found that the protein codes in the 2019-nCOV were most similar to those in the legless reptiles.
Reports indicate that snakes were sold in the seafood market in Wuhan, raising speculations that the coronavirus strain must have jumped from the host species (bats) to snakes and then to humans, leading to an outbreak.
The other theory doing the rounds is that the potential leak is from a facility which was studying the virus in China. Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory is known for studying some of the world’s most powerful viruses and pathogens.
In a report by The Washington Times, Dany Shoham, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who has studied Chinese bio warfare, said that the deadly animal-borne coronavirus’ global spread may have originated in the laboratory.
In a CNN report, New Jersey-based Rutgers University’s molecular biologist Richard Bright said that a number of things that can go wrong while working with animals, hinting towards the fact that the virus may have escaped from the laboratory.