[imagesource: AFP / Getty]
With all that we know, and all that we still don’t know, about the coronavirus, one thing that is often taken as fact is that Wuhan is regarded as the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Unless you’re one of those who believes the conspiracy theories, like the one that says 5G helps with the spread of the virus. Stop it – you’re better than that.
All of that aside, it’s often reported that in late 2019, somebody at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan was infected with a virus from an animal.
Bats and pangolins are often named as the animals that led to the first human infection, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty.
Let’s head to the Guardian for a good starting point:
…there is uncertainty about several aspects of the Covid-19 origin story that scientists are trying hard to unravel, including which species passed it to a human. They’re trying hard because knowing how a pandemic starts is a key to stopping the next one…
Scientists say it is highly likely that the virus came from bats but first passed through an intermediary animal in the same way that another coronavirus – the 2002 Sars outbreak – moved from horseshoe bats to cat-like civets before infecting humans.
One animal implicated as an intermediary host between bats and humans is the pangolin [above]. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says they are “the most illegally traded mammal in the world” and are prized for their meat and the claimed medicinal properties of their scales.
As reported in Nature, pangolins were not listed on the inventory of items being sold in Wuhan, although this omission could be deliberate as it’s illegal to sell them.
Prof Stephen Turner, head of the department of microbiology at Melbourne’s Monash University, says this theory still holds water, but adds that at this stage, it is by no means conclusive that the virus started spreading at the Wuhan live animal market from an interaction between an animal and a human.
Prof Stanley Perlman, a leading immunologist at the University of Iowa and an expert on previous coronavirus outbreaks that have stemmed from animals, says the idea the link to the Wuhan market is coincidental “cannot be ruled out” but that possibility “seems less likely” because the genetic material of the virus had been found in the market environment.
Perlman told Guardian Australia he does believe there was an intermediary animal but adds that while pangolins are possible candidates, they “are not proven to be the key intermediary”.
One of the reasons why tracing the spread of the virus is proving tough is because the market at the centre of it all was “cleaned up quite quickly”, says Dr Michelle Baker, an immunologist at CSIRO who studies viruses in bats.
Because of this, she says, “we can only speculate”.
In an article on the Daily Beast, written by two experts from the University of Michigan, the argument is made for the pangolin to be the missing link for transmission of the new coronavirus from bats to humans.
Perhaps in time, as we learn more about COVID-19, we will fully understand exactly how the virus came to be transmitted to humans. For now, though, it remains a case of very educated guessing, fools and their conspiracy theories, and uncertainty.
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