Did the 2019 NCoV come from bats to snakes to humans?


Recently, the Coronavirus Outbreak (2019 nCoV) has taken center stage, terrifying people with how quickly it has spread from person to person across numerous countries.

As of early February, the virus has claimed 427 lives in China and affected over 20,000 globally.

The first death outside of China took place in the Philippines, when a 44-year old man, the partner of a 38-year old Chinese woman from Wuhan, came to Dumaguete on Jan. 21 from Cebu and left for a resort in Dauin before departing for Manila on Jan 25.  At the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila where they were admitted and confined, the woman was asymptomatic but the man succumbed to Pneumonia and eventually died on Feb 1.

The origin of the virus has been traced to a live seafood and animal market in Wuhan, Hubei province, Central China. Wild animals such as bats, snakes, masked palm civets, wild rats and live wolf pups have been known to be sold in the market.  Some wild animals have been touted to be sources of Chinese Traditional Healing and to boost “male potency.”   Game or wild animals are considered exotic – buying and eating them are also a status symbol in China:  only rich people can afford to buy these animals.  They cook dishes such as “soup made of civet” (a cat-sized mammal native to the jungles of Southeast Asia) “fried cobra” and “bear paw” according to Peter Li, China Policy Specialist at Humane Society International and professor in East Asian Politics, University of Houston-Downtown.

Bats have been a threat to the spread of the virus since “bats harbour a significantly higher proportion of zoonotic viruses than other mammals, according to a 2017 study.  Bats can fly across large geographic ranges, transporting diseases as they go.  That makes them the ideal host.  They pass along viruses in their poop.  If they drop feces onto a piece of fruit that a different animal then eats, the creature can be a carrier,” noted Aylin Woodward (Business Insider, Jan. 29, 2020).

Bart Haagnam, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands in Business Insider, came up with a similar finding:  “Bats and birds are a reservoir species with pandemic potential.  In the past 45 years, at least three other pandemics, other than SARS, have been traced to bats – Ebola Virus, which killed 13,500 people in multiple outbreaks since 1976; MERS, which spread to 28 countries and NIPAH Virus, which had a 78% fatality rate.”

In a study published by the Journal of Medical Virology, it has been found that “the 2019 nCoV is most closely related to two bat SARS-like coronaviruses samples from China.  After a detailed bioinformatics analysis of the sequence of the 2019 nCoV, it was found that this coronavirus might come from snakes.” (Haitao Guo, et. Al., “The Conversations,” Science Alert, Jan. 23, 2020).

The article explains further:  “Snakes hunt for bats in the wild.  The 2019 nCoV might have jumped from the host species – bats to snakes – then to humans at the beginning of the outbreak” Haitao Guo, et. Al. argues.  However, the study also recognizes that there are still missing links such as “how the virus could adapt to both the cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts.” Scientists are still scrambling to solve the mystery.

In the Philippines, we may not have such cultural practices as eating wild animals.  However, there are some places here where people eat dogs, frogs and cockroaches.  For these people, they have been raised in that manner.   Perhaps we may re-think the eating of these animals to avoid passing on the virus to humans.

As the government tries to contain the spread of the virus, we must also do our part in eating healthy food, keeping hydrated, getting enough sleep, observing hygienic habits like hand-washing, covering our mouth with a hanky or a tissue paper when we cough or sneeze, wearing face masks in public places and avoiding going to crowded areas.