(ORDO NEWS) — WHO has created a group of “virological detectives” whose goal is to find out where the sars-cov-2 virus came from. If earlier it was believed that people got the disease from bats in Wuhan, China, now scientists have doubted this. One of the prerequisites is large-scale outbreaks of infection on European mink farms.
Where did the sars-cov-2 virus that causes covid-19 disease actually come from? WHO has created a group of “virological detectives” to trace its origins. One of the animals suspected of transmitting the virus to humans is the mink, which is now spreading the infection in many European countries.
Tracking down where the virus came from is not easy. Scientists are still not sure which host animal in 2003 awarded people with the SARS virus (sars-1). According to some theories, they could be raccoon dogs or felines. And those, in turn, could be infected by bats. But there is no concrete evidence.
Will scientists be able to find the true source of the sars-cov-2 virus this time? Maybe. Much more information has already been collected, and the arsenal of purely technical means for tracking the virus is much richer than 17 years ago.
But the political situation is such that it is difficult for scientists outside of China to access data that the country has probably already collected. When Trump called the virus “Chinese”, accusing China of deliberately releasing it from a laboratory in Wuhan, he did not make it easier for scientists either. But, of course, the fact that the Chinese authorities did not immediately inform the world about the virus and tried to silence the residents of Wuhan raises some suspicions.
“It would be logical for the Chinese to start figuring out where the virus came from from the very beginning. It is suspicious that no information has been received about this work. In 2003, they immediately provided data. That is why everything happened so quickly then, it helped to stop the epidemic very quickly, ”says Åke Lundkvist, professor of virology at Uppsala University.
In July this year, the World Health Organization sent its first team to China to scout the situation and develop a preliminary plan to track the virus. The plan is now ready, and an international team of epidemiologists, virologists and other specialists, including Chinese, has begun work. The names of the scientists are still kept secret.
To begin with, the experts decided to survey the Wuhan markets, although there is no longer any certainty that the virus originated from there. But from there the first information about the outbreak came. Virology detectives will study several species of animals that are sold in the markets and find out how they are transported within China and across borders with neighboring countries.
For example, special attention will be paid to foxes and raccoons, but felines and minks, which are considered susceptible to the coronavirus, will also be studied. Further, the WHO will also try to understand what species the bats belonged to, which transmitted the virus to the host animal, through which humans received it.
Mink has been alarming around the world recently, and following a massive outbreak on Danish farms, WHO has launched an investigation. Now foci of coronavirus infection have also been found in mink factories in Sweden.
“I think the WHO started from what types of animals are easiest to infect, and therefore decided to look among them. It seems that it is minks and felines that are very easy to infect sars-cov-2. We saw how quickly the infection spread among minks: farms in the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and the USA were affected, ”says Åke Lundqvist.
However, he believes that WHO should also pay attention to raccoon dogs and felines, which were believed to be the cause of the SARS epidemic in 2003.
The first samples of frozen animal meat at the infamous Huanan market in Wuhan found no trace of sars-cov-2. But analyzes of fluids in the market’s sewer system indicate that the virus was there, according to the WHO report.
“The report is somewhat vague about this, and it is unclear where exactly these samples were taken. Wastewater can, of course, be contaminated from people or animals, but what kind of fluids were analyzed? Animal blood or toilet drain? There are signs of a virus, but where did it come from? ” – asks Oke Lundqvist.
Virology detectives will also be looking at the medical records of patients who have visited hospitals in Wuhan to see if the virus began to spread earlier than December 2019. They will interview the first cases of coronavirus and double-check the analyzes of hospital staff, laboratory workers and farmers.
Scientists from the American Harvard published the results of a study in the summer, which indicates that the virus could infect a person earlier than expected. Satellite data shows that the five Wuhan hospitals from August to December 2019 received many more patients compared to the same period last year. In addition, in the fall of 2019, residents of this Chinese region began to enter the queries “cough” and “diarrhea” much more often in search engines.
At least one case of covid-19 (and probably more) at the end of last year was in Europe. In December 2019, a man with severe pneumonia was admitted to a hospital in Paris. This happened four days before the first covid-19 cluster outbreak was recorded in Wuhan. Later tests taken from this man showed that he was sick with covid-19.
“It cannot be ruled out that we have simply not noticed this virus for some time. However, it is, of course, so contagious to humans that it hardly takes months or years,” concludes Oke Lundqvist.
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