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New coronavirus may be spreading from dogs to humans

Christian Fernsby |
Within weeks of the pandemic COVID-19 breaking out in the Chinese city of Wuhan and gradually SARS-CoV-2 spread around the world, Professor at the American Duke University Gregory Gray commissioned one of his students to develop a test capable of detecting all coronavirus species in order to prevent a future catastrophe.

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The objective was, once the reliability of the tool was proven, to use it in ancient human samples to locate signs of coronavirus that could have passed from animals to humans, as is suspected to have happened originally with SARS-CoV-2.

"This is the first report of a novel canine-feline recombinant alphacoronavirus isolated from a human pneumonia patient. If confirmed as a pathogen, it may represent the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans. Our findings underscore the public health threat of animal CoVs and a need to conduct better surveillance for them," the study says.

The result was that a coronavirus was discovered in Malaysia that appeared to have jumped from dogs to humans. They achieved this finding by analysing old nasal swabs corresponding to 301 people in Sarawak, most of them children, admitted between 2017 and 2018 with pneumonia. In eight of these patients (2.7%), they found traces of RNA of a virus of this type of canine origin, as published last Thursday in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease .

After using other, more conventional tests to confirm these findings, they detected the virus in two of the patients. After sequencing it, they identified it as a new recombined mixture of canine and feline coronavirus, which has never before been documented.

As the researchers explain, this is the first time that a recombination of coronavirus originating in dogs and cats has been recorded in patients with pneumonia. “If it is confirmed as a pathogen, it would become the eighth known to cause disease in people, ” they emphasized though that their finding needs further investigation.

In addition, they highlighted the fact that this newly discovered coronavirus shares many genomic characteristics with the one that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, they did warn that the study has a series of limitations, such as the fact that it did not comply with the so-called Koch Postulates, a list of very strict requirements to be able to validate the existence of a virus and a disease. They also recognise that the detected coronavirus could simply be in the respiratory tract of patients without being the cause of the disease.

The researchers also denounce that coronaviruses “have not been sufficiently studied” for years, as it has been associated on many occasions with the common cold. Likewise, they refer specifically to those that come from dogs and cats and regret that they have been analyzed “sparingly”.

In this sense, they warn of the ability of this type of virus to evolve rapidly through “frequent recombination events and induce a disease of variable severity.

“It is even more worrying if you take into account these data that indicate that the circulating coronavirus may already be transmissible to humans, ” they add, referring to the one they have just identified in Malaysia.

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