World

Wuhan virus outbreak traced to snakes, badgers and rats

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: A new coronavirus spreading from the city of Wuhan has put a spotlight on China's poorly regulated wild animal trade - driven by relentless demand for exotic delicacies and ingredients for traditional medicine.

CNN reported that snakes - the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra - may be the original source of the newly discovered corona virus.

The researchers used an analysis of the protein codes favoured by the new corona virus and compared it with the protein codes from corona viruses found in different animal hosts, like birds, snakes, marmots, hedgehogs, manis, bats and humans.

Surprisingly, they found that the protein codes in the 2019-nCoV are most similar to those used in snakes. Snakes often hunt for bats in the wild.

Reports indicate that snakes were sold in a local seafood market in Wuhan, raising the possibility that the 2019-nCoV might have jumped from the host species - bats - to snakes and then to humans at the beginning of the outbreak.

But how the virus could adapt to both the cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts remains a mystery.

The hypothesis that the 2019-nCoV jumped from an animal at the market is strongly supported by a new publication in the Journal Of Medical Virology.

China's markets have been described as a breeding ground for diseases and an incubator for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans, Reuters reported.

"The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market," Dr Gao Fu, director of China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"The animal welfare part of this is obvious, but much more hidden is this stashing and mixing of all these species together in a small area, with secretions and urine mixed up together," said Mr Christian Walzer, executive director of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The other thing you have to consider is that these animals are massively stressed in these cages so their immune systems fail quickly," said Mr Walzer.

Environmentalists have long campaigned for new laws to restrict the use of wild animals in Chinese medicine and to develop synthetic alternatives. But many animal products are still easily available.

WORLD