As the worldwide death toll hits 550, scientists learn that the Coronavirus likely came from bats

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As the worldwide death toll hits 550, scientists learn that the Coronavirus likely came from bats

There's a 96% similarity to a disease found in bats and is almost identical to SARS

An important breakthrough has happened in the fight against the Coronavirus. Scientists have discovered that the virus, named 2019-nCoV is also 79.5% similar to SARS. This could be a big help in developing a vaccine.

Even more interesting, the virus shares a 96% similarity with viruses found in bats, making them the most most likely source of the infection. 

Global cases have risen above 17,450, higher than the total recorded cases of the SARS virus that killed some 800 people in 2002 and 2003.   

Experts have traced the source of the Coronavirus to a meat market in Wuhan, which illegally sold animals including koalas, rats and wolf pups were available at the Huanan Seafood Market in central Wuhan - the outbreak's epicentre. The market was popular with locals, who could choose to buy their meat 'warm' meaning it had been slaughtered just moment prior.

The practice of outdoor markets, where wildlife is sold illegally, has been the centerpoint of a controversy around cultural practices in China. Despite many of the early reports, "bat soup" was not linked to the origin of the illness, no matter what clickbait articles say. Nor are outdoor wildlife markets commonplace in the society. But there is a long history of poaching and other illegal practices used to satisfy consumer needs. Many rare or exotic foods are status symbols, and their demand enables the trade that lead to the outbreak in the first place.

From the National Geographic article

Rebecca Wong, assistant professor of sociology and behavioral sciences at the City University of Hong Kong, argues in her 2019 book about the illegal wildlife trade in China that consuming wildlife “is a common phenomenon in mainland China.” But Wong cautions against stereotyping this practice, arguing that the idea of the “Asian superconsumer” is a myth and that complex motivations are at play, including peer pressure, societal pressure, and the impulse to chase status.

[. . .]

In markets, animals “are dying, they are thirsty, they are in rusty cages and totally dirty,” Li says. They may be missing limbs or have open wounds from their capture in the wild or injuries sustained during transport. “The traders don’t handle them gently—they smash the cages down to the floor when unloading and loading. The animals suffer a lot.”The chaos of the trade enables the spread of zoonotic diseases—those that spread from animals to humans—says Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian at the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Wild animals, he explains, can carry viruses that “in a normal world, would not come into contact with humans.” These carriers aren’t sick—they’re simply “silent reservoirs.” But as we encroach into animals’ habitats, we increase our exposure.

Dr Michael Skinner, reader in virology at Imperial College London, said: 'The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

'We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.

'But the high level of sequence similarity between nCoV and TG13 is not really compatible with some of the more exotic hosts that were considered earlier in the epidemic.'

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