Coronaviruses, which are very closely related to SARS-CoV-2 and can lead to COVID-19, were discovered more than 10 years ago in a pair of bats that were sampled in Cambodia.
The discovery, described in the journal Nature Communications, further supports theories that the global pandemic was the result of a “spillovers from a bat-borne virus.”
In December 2019, government officials in the Chinese city of Wuhan confirmed that health officials were treating several cases of pneumonia of unknown origin. Just days later, researchers in China identified a new virus that had infected dozens of people across Asia. In the months since then, there has been some puzzling over the origin of COVID-19.
Health experts, world market leaders and internet users have put forward different hypotheses about the source of the coronavirus. Most infectious disease experts, however, agree that it jumped undetected across the species barrier from bats to another animal, which then passed it on to humans.
In the most recent study, scientists relied on metagenomic sequencing to identify “the nearly identical viruses” in two Shamel horseshoe bats that were first sampled in 2010 and SARS-CoV-2 lines may reflect a lack of sampling in Southeast Asia. “
In addition to bats, the authors warned that certain species of cats, civets and weasels found in the region are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and could ultimately serve as intermediate hosts for transmission to humans. In addition, groups of pangolins seized from anti-smuggling operations in 2020 showed signs of subline SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
Although it is unclear exactly where the animals were infected, the authors found that the pangolin involved also corresponds to “Southeast Asia and not China”.
“Southeast Asia is home to a wide variety of wildlife and an extensive wildlife trade that puts people in direct contact with wild hosts of SARS-like coronaviruses,” said Lucy Keatts of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) health program and co-author of the learning.
“The region is subject to dramatic land use changes such as infrastructure development, urban development and agricultural expansion that can intensify contacts between bats, other wildlife, domestic animals and humans. Continuous and expanded monitoring of bats and other important wildlife in Southeast Asia is a crucial part of future pandemic preparedness and prevention. “