“Snake Pneumonia” – Coronavirus Outbreak in China Traced to Snakes by Genetic Analysis

Snakes Sold at Market

Patients who became infected with the virus were exposed to wildlife animals at a wholesale market, where seafood, poultry, snakes, bats, and farm animals were sold.

Emerging viral infections — from bird flu to Ebola to Zika infections — pose major threats to global public health, and understanding their origins can help investigators design defensive strategies against future outbreaks. A new study provides important insights on the potential origins of the most recent outbreak of viral pneumonia in China, which started in the middle of December and now is spreading to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Japan. The findings are published early online in the Journal of Medical Virology.

The study notes that patients who became infected with the virus — which is a type of virus called a coronavirus and was named 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization — were exposed to wildlife animals at a wholesale market, where seafood, poultry, snakes, bats, and farm animals were sold.

By conducting a detailed genetic analysis of the virus and comparing it with available genetic information on different viruses from various geographic locations and host species, the investigators concluded that the 2019-nCoV appears to be a virus that formed from a combination of a coronavirus found in bats and another coronavirus of unknown origin. The resulting virus developed a mix or “recombination” of a viral protein that recognizes and binds to receptors on host cells. Such recognition is key to allowing viruses to enter host cells, which can lead to infection and disease.

Finally, the team uncovered evidence that the 2019-nCoV likely resided in snakes before being transmitted to humans. Recombination within the viral receptor-binding protein may have allowed for cross-species transmission from snake to humans.

“Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,” the authors wrote. “New information obtained from our evolutionary analysis is highly significant for effective control of the outbreak caused by the 2019-nCoV-induced pneumonia.”

An accompanying editorial notes that although the ultimate control of emerging viral infections requires the discovery and development of effective vaccines and/or antiviral drugs, currently licensed antiviral drugs should be tested against the 2019-nCoV.

Concerned about this viral infection from China that may have originated in snakes and bats? Read Research Underway to Address Threat of Novel Coronavirus That Recently Emerged in China.

Reference: “Homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein of the newly identified coronavirus may boost cross‐species transmission from snake to human” by Wei Ji, Wei Wang, Xiaofang Zhao, Junjie Zai and Xingguang Li, 22 January 2020, Journal of Medical Virology.
DOI: 10.1002/jmv.25682


View Comments

  • Why was a picture of Central American cribos used for this article? They have nothing whatsoever to do with Asia. Makes it very hard to believe the article for those of us who are not ignorant.

  • Most likely from a “wet market” where raw meat is kept outside and unrefrigerated in a hot climate, where no disinfect is used, and random people come along and handle the meat with their bare hands. Animals are kept in cages and blood is just washed away with a hose.

    Also, it should be noted that there are many reports of people With symptoms having escaped the quarantine zones. It probably didn’t help that they warned people days in advance before implementing the quarantine. It certainly didn’t help that they were having banquets and telling everyone not to worry when they knew people were sick.

    Also, many news outlets are relying on information provided by the CCP, but the CCP will never be honest with its own people, never mind “foreigners”. Always consider the info from the CCP as credible as you would coming from a random spam email.

  • China is a nasty filthy country that murders innocent animals and eats them alive.. And they invent horrific deases that kill everything..make China stop their barbaric actions!


  • God just left the building and is looking back in disbelief. Until all people limit their offspring to just 2 the planet faces a disaster of irreversible damage to the only home we have. As for the Chinese they are amazing people. They need to live up to their great history and change their meat markets to avoid justifiable criticisms. I hope God saves the planet first; the animals next and only then saves us. There are far far too many of us while animal extinctions continue. Irreplaceable every one. All of us need to live within our means and drastically cut our carbon footprints. Or suffer the consequences. Long live that Schoolgirl and the old man who tries to educate us. I forget their names but not their message. Wind. Solar. Geothermal. Hydrogen. Tidal. Nuclear fusion if possible. Fission if not. Way to go.

    • Man cannot bring world peace--only God has the authority to do that. True world peace will not only include a clean, perfect environment, but it will include no suffering and no death. No weapons of mass destruction. No murders, no child trafficking, no drug wards, and the list goes on and on. It's arrogant for imperfect and corrupted man to think he can take things into his own hands to solve the world's problems. They can try, but ultimately they will fail. It is written. "It does not belong to man even to direct his own step". God created man and woman to have children and "fill the earth". He didn't say anything about only 2 children. That is an opinion.

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