Analysis of the virus initially showed similarities with other viruses from bats. But more detailed testing suggested it may have been snakes—which were sold in the Wuhan market the outbreak is thought to have started inby Haitao Guo, Guangxiang "George" Luo and Shou-Jiang Gao / January 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
Snakes—the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra—may be the original source of the newly discovered coronavirus that has triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory illness in China this winter.
Using samples of the virus isolated from patients, scientists in China have determined the genetic code of the virus and used microscopes to photograph it.
The pathogen responsible for this pandemic is a new coronavirus. It’s in the same family of viruses as the well-known 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. The illness was first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, a major city in central China, and has been rapidly spreading.
Since then, sick travellers from Wuhan have infected people in China and other countries, including the United States.
We are virologists and journal editors and are closely following this outbreak because there are many questions that need to be answered to curb the spread of this public health threat.
What is a coronavirus?
The name of coronavirus comes from its shape, which resembles a crown or solar corona when imaged using an electron microscope.
Coronavirus is transmitted through the air and primarily infects 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.
This new 2019-nCoV causes similar symptoms to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. People infected with these coronaviruses suffer a severe inflammatory response.
Unfortunately, there is no approved vaccine or antiviral treatment available for coronavirus infection. A better understanding of the life cycle of 2019-nCoV, including the source of the virus, how it is transmitted and how it replicates are needed to both prevent and treat the disease.
Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases, meaning the first patients who were infected acquired these viruses directly from animals. This was possible because while in the animal host, the virus had acquired a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect…