Study finds 18 new `high risk' zoonotic viruses across China's wet markets
22 November 2021
A study by group of scientists has found 18 new zoonotic viruses in the wet markets across China, which, they say, could pose considerable risk to humans and domesticated animals.
In the study, which is yet to be published, the team of researchers from China, the US, Belgium and Australia, notes that Zoonotic viruses infect animals but have the capability to ‘jump’ and infect humans, and thereby creating new epidemic and pandemic diseases.
The new study seems to support the Chinese version of SARS-CoV-2 virus originating in the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City before spreading worldwaide as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scientific studies are, however, divided and inconclusive on whether the sprawling 50,000-square metre wet market was the ground zero of the SARS CoV-2 virus, where it jumped from an animal of indeterminate species to humans.
Amidst theories of a lab leak, a bioweapon and other theories, the study on the Wuhan Market zoonosis origin remains inconclusive.
A wet market (also called a public market or a traditional market) is one where fresh meat, fish and produce are sold. The Huanan Seafood market, in particular, was one where live animals were also kept and slaughtered fresh for customers.
Wet markets are common across China, India, and other parts of South and Southeast Asia. Wet markets become particularly dangerous when they engage in the trade of wild or exotic animals, thought to be the cause of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19, H5N1 avian flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and monkeypox.
The researchers analysed 1,725 game animals, representing 16 species and five mammalian orders, sampled across China.
“From this we identified 71 mammalian viruses, with 45 described for the first time. Eighteen viruses were considered as potentially high risk to humans and domestic animals,” said corresponding author Shuo Su from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Nanjing Agricultural University in China.
Many of the species were banned by the Chinese government for trading or artificial breeding, in a move to lessen the risk of further spread of zoonotic viruses.
However, the researchers were unable to find any close coronavirus relations to SARS CoV, the virus responsible for causing SARS, or SARS CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses from the subfamily Orthocoronavirinae, in the family Coronaviridae, named for their crown-shaped spike protein.
Out of the species examined, civets (Paguma larvata) were found to have the most number of potential zoonotic viruses. This included a bat-borne coronavirus HKU8 in the civets and the avian influenza virus H9N2. Other cases of cross-species infections included jumps of coronavirus from bats to hedgehogs and from birds to porcupines.
"These data highlight the importance of game animals as potential drivers of disease emergence," the researchers said.