Coronavirus: The disease may have spread to humans by pangolins

There are many unanswered questions about the novel Coronavirus, such as “how does the virus transmitted?” And where did it come from? “Now, researchers based in China say they think that the pangolin— a scaly, but harmless mammal eating ants— may have spread the virus to humans.

Pangolin searching for ants
Researchers point the pangolin to the novel coronavirus as a possible carrier.

When coronaviruses spread to humans, it is generally the carrier of the virus via contact with an animal.

Nccmed has recently published a comprehensive article on the new virus which explains that some of the most common coronavirus carriers are bats.

It is unlikely, however, that bats will transmit the virus directly to humans, and as with most common viruses, such as SARS and MERS, an intermediate species is usually responsible. This was the civet cat for SARS while dromedaries helped spread MERS.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said when approached by nccmed a few days ago that they did not yet know the specific source of the novel coronavirus.

“Chinese researchers are investigating this but have not found a source yet,” they said at the time.

Just a few days later, researchers from South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, Shen Yongyi and Xiao Lihua, announced in a press conference that they may have identified pangolin as the source of the virus.

The statement, “Pangolin is detected in South China as a potential intermediate host of new coronavirus,” can be found on the university’s website.

A 99% DNA match

Scientists had previously shown that the current coronavirus is most similar to two other bat viruses; in addition, it has 88 percent genomic similarity to these viruses, which has led scientists to conclude that bats are carrying the new virus.

The two scientists now used genomic sequencing to equate the DNA of the latest coronavirus in humans with that in animals and found a match with pangolins of 99 percent.

“That’s a very interesting observation. Though we need to see more information, it makes sense as there are now some other evidence emerging that pangolins bear viruses closely related to 2019-nCoV,” Edward Holmes, an evolutionary virologist at Sydney University, Australia, told the prestigious journal Nature.

“This latest discovery will be of great importance in preventing and controlling the origin of the new coronavirus,” the website of Chinese universities states.

At the conference, Liu Yahong, president of the South China Agricultural University, announced that they would soon be publishing the findings to help control the virus.

How could pangolins have spread the virus?

Pangolins— an armadillo and anteaters relative— are scaly animals that feed on burrowing insects including termites and bees.

Pangolins are also an endangered species and previous research has shown that the coronavirus is possibly responsible for killing a large number of Malayan Pangolins.

In China, animals are protected by the law of the country, and selling Pangolins will result in 10 years in prison. But the animal lis a victim of illicit trafficking — in reality, researchers describe it as “the world’s most poached and trafficked mammal.”

The Chinese use the scales of the animal to treat such problems as arthritis, menstrual pain, and skin conditions. People also sell the meat of the animal, and regard it as a delicacy.

Scientists have indicated that the outbreak originated at a seafood and wild animal market in Wuhan, China, in their attempts to track down the source of the new coronavirus.

Although that market has not officially sold pangolins, people may have illegally sold the animals there.

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