An outbreak of a previously unknown type of coronavirus that emerged in China late last year may be linked to infections in bats and other wildlife. Georgy Bazykin, head of the molecular evolution sector of the Institute for Information Transmission Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told TASS about this.
"The virus most of all resembles those pathogens that were extracted from the body of bats. This allows us to cautiously assume that this time the transmission of the virus from animals to humans took place through bats, or some intermediate link with them, as it already happened. with other outbreaks of coronaviruses, "Bazykin explained.
On December 31, 2019, the Chinese authorities informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of an unknown viral pneumonia that occurred in the city of Wuhan in the central part of the country. On January 7, Chinese experts identified the causative agent of the disease - it turned out to be the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.
The State Committee on Hygiene and Health of the People's Republic of China said on January 21 that the number of people infected with a new type of pneumonia in China had risen to 291. Single cases of 2019-nCoV infection were recorded in three other Asian countries - Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Chinese media reported that six residents of Wuhan have died from the disease to date.
“This time, our Chinese colleagues did a good job and quickly obtained data on the structure of the genome of this virus. These sequences were made publicly available, and their comparison shows that they are very similar to SARS, the SARS virus that spread across China and neighboring countries in 2002. It is important to understand that this is not the same virus, but it is very close to it, the scientist explained.
As Bazykin noted, the new virus belongs to the same group as the well-known SARS and MERS, the causative agents of SARS and Middle East fever. Over the past ten years, both viruses have claimed the lives of several hundred people in the Middle East and East Asia, and have repeatedly caused epidemics, spreading through camels and poultry.
All three pathogens are so-called coronaviruses. Infection with them causes similar symptoms: fever, cough, trouble breathing, and persistent coughing up. The incubation period lasts 12 days, then the strongest fever begins almost instantly. As a rule, about half of patients die from exhaustion, complications, or concomitant infections.
“We cannot yet rule out that the transmission of this virus to humans did not take place through bats, but in other ways. How exactly this happened, one can only guess, - said Bazykin.
The data available to scientists, he said, does not yet allow us to understand when a vaccine against this disease will be created, as well as when it will be possible to stop the spread of Chinese viral pneumonia. Epidemiologists are very concerned about the fact that the Lunar New Year has now begun in East Asia, during which a huge number of residents of China and neighboring countries make trips and flights to other cities and countries.
"According to current, very rough estimates, the maximum number of carriers of the infection is about 1,700, while the number of hospitalized patients is much less. Now we can only say that the virus can be transmitted from person to person, how stable this transmission is is still unknown. In principle, it cannot be ruled out that it will be transferred to Russia. At the time of SARS, we already had one case of infection, "the scientist explained.
At the same time, Bazykin expressed confidence that simple methods of infection control, including thermal imagers at airports and other crowded places, will help contain this outbreak of pneumonia and prevent it from turning into a larger epidemic. The scientist hopes that China and other countries can avoid introducing tougher measures that were used in the fight against SARS.