It has been almost a year since the Chinese city of Wuhan detected the first cases of COVID-19 and nine months since the virus spread around the world causing a pandemic with serious consequences. But nevertheless, its origin is still a mystery that the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to solve. As reported by the journal Nature, WHO has begun to investigate the real origin of the coronavirus in order to prevent future outbreaks. To do this, a group of researchers has traveled to Wuhan with the mission to trace the route they have followed.
The research mission will have Two phases and will be in charge of a international group made up of epidemiologists, virologists and researchers with experience in public health, animal health and food safety whose names have not been released. The team held its first virtual meeting, including the researchers in China, on October 30, and is reviewing preliminary evidence and developing study protocols, they say from the WHO.
Investigation begins in Wuhan
The first phase will begin in Wuhan, before spreading to the rest of China and other countries. There, Chinese scientists will examine in depth the Huanan meat and animal market, where the disease is believed to have arisen after many of the first infected people had visited it. International researchers will probably travel later to review the results.
The role the market played in the spread of the virus remains a mystery because, when cases are detected, was abruptly closed and the animals were sacrificed without taking any tests. However, I do know frozen part samples, even though none evidenced the presence of SARS-CoV-2, according to a report released by the WHO on November 5. Instead, 8% of environmental samples, especially those extracted from pipes and drains, yes they tested positive in coronavirus. Likewise, the document includes a study from last spring that found that the 14% of cats from Wuhan, domestic or wild, they tested positive. “Preliminary studies have not produced credible indications to reduce the area of investigation,” the report states.
The team will also investigate wild and farm animals sold in the market, including foxes, raccoons and deer, as well as the travel of animals in China and across borders. In addition, the Wuhan hospital records to find out if the virus was already spreading before December 2019. To do this, scientists interview the first people diagnosed with COVID-19 and, in order to find antibodies against the virus, they will examine blood samples of medical personnel, laboratory technicians and farm workers collected in the weeks and months leading up to December.
Long term plans
Longer-term studies will be addressed in the second phase, and perhaps outside of China, since “where an epidemic is first detected does not necessarily reflect where it started “states the WHO report. Specifically, future studies could focus on bats from neighboring countries, in Southeast Asia. In any case, the WHO states that the mission will be science guided and “will be open minded, iterative, without excluding any hypothesis that may contribute to generate evidence and limit the focus of the investigation ”.
An arduous task
Most researchers so far believe that the virus originated in bats, although it is still unknown how people jumped. In fact, there may be “More than 500 species capable of acting as intermediary organisms”. There have already been other coronaviruses that have passed to humans through an intermediate host animal, such as SARS from 2002-04, that probably it came to people through dogs, raccoons or civets, which puts these animals in the spotlight for future research.
Scientists are aware of the difficulty of finding the source of COVID-19 given the wide range of possibilities. “Finding an animal with a SARS-CoV-2 infection it’s like looking for a needle in the biggest haystack in the world. They may never find the animal, ”says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York City.
This complexity is compounded by the tense relationship between China and the United States, which has caused essential data for investigations to be withheld. The great hope of scientists is now that the new administration of the American country Help this mission succeed. The president-elect Joe biden already said that Will reverse Donald Trump’s withdrawal from WHO.