How Coronavirus originated
With how little is really known about the novel coronavirus (due to its novel nature, obviously), it’s easy to see the fear factor that has developed around the disease. What’s more, the muddled information and misinformation that must be sifted through when trying to fill in the ever-growing list of unknowns in relation to the virus sure doesn’t help those trying to keep themselves informed. In this article, we’re going to tackle the first question on that list, and one that has a lot of debate surrounding it: Where did the coronavirus really come from? Along with providing all the knowns to help fill in this gap of knowledge, we’re going to sift through some of the misinformation to help provide at least a bit of clarity on the topic of COVID-19’s origin.
As most people probably are aware, the first cases of the virus that causes SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as COVID-19 or coronavirus, were identified in Wuhan CIty, China. These first cases were reported in December of 2019 (hence the number in the name COVID-19), but investigations identified human cases of the illness as having appeared earlier in the month December, 2019. The first of these cases is known to have fallen ill on the first of the month. The initial outbreak in Wuhan in December led to a number of “cluster cases” of the initially infected with SARS-CoV-2. Of these cluster cases, two-thirds were linked to a specific wet market in Wuhan City, known to sell animals. It is commonly thought that Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market was the site of the outbreak, the place in which the novel coronavirus first spread from animals to humans. And it’s true that it was likely the site of a superspreader event, in which one person spread the disease to many others. However, the initial case detected on December 1, or who we think to be patient zero, had no connection with the wet market, nor did the other third of the cluster cases. And while many of the initial patients were either stall owners, market employees, or regular visitors to this market, and samples taken from the market showed that many surfaces tested positive for the virus, none of the animals did. Typically, when viruses spread from an animal to a human, they infect other animals, too. So the fact that none of the animals at the wet market, where lots of different species of live animals are kept in close corridors, and lots of humans come into contact with them, tested positive shows that this probably wasn’t the site of the initial infection, but it sure had a lot to do with the initial spread. The market was shut down January 1, 2020. People began to scramble to purchase and N95 respirators they could.
The genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was released a few weeks later on January 11-12. Looking at the virus, it is clear that it has an animal origin that then spread to humans, or a zoonotic origin. All evidence shows that the virus was of natural animal origin and could not have been created in a lab, shown by its genetic composition and the lack of known elements in its genetic code. Had the virus been lab-created, scientists would have been able to see a mix of known elements in its genetic sequence, evidencing lab construction.
Because coronaviruses are a large family of different virus types, comparison of SARS-CoV-2’s genetic sequence and other coronaviruses similar to it was able to lead scientists and virologists to hypothesize its origins. SARS-CoV-2 bears a strong resemblance to another coronavirus outbreak in 2003 that had similar symptoms but was different in its genetic code, SARS-CoV-1.
Coronaviruses can infect several different kinds of animals, including pangolins, bats, cats, and dromedary camels. Both SARS-CoV-1 and 2 have been found to have an ecological origin in bat populations, with SARS-CoV-2 probably originating from horseshoe bats near Wuhan, China. While some have hypothesized that the virus was transmitted from bat to human while people were handling bat guano and carcasses to make traditional Chinese medicines, the World Health Organization says that contact between humans and bats is usually so limited that it is more likely that the virus spread first to another animal, one more often handled by humans, before then spreading to people. The intermediate host has not yet been identified. Regardless of what anyone says, though, the virus was NOT spread by people eating bats, and there is no evidence to support that it was. The exact origin and direct ancestral virus of COVID-19 have not yet been identified.