Origins of Covid-19: New research claims that animals sold in a Wuhan market may have started the pandemic

In one, scientists from around the world used mapping tools and social media reports to analyze space and the environment. They said the virus could have been present in live animals sold on the market in late 2019, “while the exact circumstances remain unclear.” Animals are kept close together and can easily exchange germs. However, the study cannot identify which animals became ill.

The researchers found that the earliest cases of Covid-19 were among vendors selling these live animals at the market or people shopping there. According to them, two different viruses circulated among animals and spread to humans.

“All eight cases of COVID-19 detected up to December 20 were on the west side of the market, where mammals were also sold,” the study said. The proximity of five stalls selling live or recently slaughtered animals foretells human events.

“The clustering is very, very specific,” study author Christian Andersen of the Scripps Research Department of Immunology and Microbiology said Tuesday.

Another author, Michael Urobei, of the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said the “unique” pattern that emerged from mapping these cases was very clear.

The researchers mapped the earliest cases that had no connection to the market, Worobey noted, and those people lived or worked near the market.

“This is an indication that the spread of the virus started with people working in the market, but then spread to the surrounding local community as vendors entered local shops and infected people working in those shops,” Worobey said.

Another study takes a molecular approach and appears to determine when the first coronavirus infections passed from animals to humans.

This study shows that the earliest version of the coronavirus likely appeared in different forms, which scientists call A and B. The offspring were the result of at least two cross-species being transmitted to humans.

Researchers believe that the first animal-to-human transmission occurred around November 18, 2019, and that it came from B. They found strain B only in people with direct connections to the Huanan market.

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The authors believe that strain A entered humans within weeks or even days after being infected by strain B from an animal.

“These findings indicate that SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to have become widespread in humans before November 2019, and define a narrow window between when SARS-CoV-2 first jumped into humans and when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported,” the study says. “Like other coronaviruses, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 may have resulted from multiple zoonotic events.”

It’s unlikely that such a virus could arise from two separate events, said co-author Joel Wertheim, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

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“Now I understand, it sounds like what I just said: a once-in-a-generation event has happened twice in a short period of time, and pandemics are actually rare, but once all the conditions are in place – for this zoonotic virus, both human infection and human transmission – to spread barriers are lowered, so multiple entries should actually be expected,” Wertheim said.

Andersen says the research doesn’t definitively disprove the lab leak theory, but it’s very convincing, so he changed his mind about the origin of the virus.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a lab leak myself, until we take a closer look at it and take a closer look at it,” Andersen said. “Based on the data and analysis I’ve done on many other viruses over the last decade, I’m convinced that the data actually points to this market.”

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Worobey said he also thought a lab leak was possible, but the epidemiological preponderance of market-related cases was “not a mirage.”

“It’s a real thing,” he said. “It is implausible that this virus was introduced by any means other than the wildlife trade.”

To reduce the likelihood of future pandemics, researchers hope to be able to pinpoint which animal first became infected and how.

“The raw ingredients of a zoonotic virus with pandemic potential still exist in the wild,” Wertheim said. He believes the world needs to do a much better job of controlling and monitoring animal and other threats to human health.

While we can’t prevent epidemics, Andersen says, collaboration among scientists around the world could be the key to making the difference between a low-impact disease and one that kills millions.

“The big question we have to ask ourselves — the next time it happens, because it will — is how do we go about detecting this outbreak early and preventing it from becoming a pandemic?”


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