A closer look into the deadly virus that has sickened hundreds in China and around the world suggests the pneumonia-like infection may have come from snakes, a new study has found.
The newly discovered coronavirus is linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, which sells birds, bats, rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs —and snakes.
A group of scientists has found that snakes are “the most probable wildlife reservoir” for the new virus, according to an article published Wednesday in the Journal of Medical Virology.
“Taken together, our results suggest that homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein may contribute to cross-species transmission from snake to humans,” the Chinese scientists wrote.
The two specific types of snake cited in the study are the Chinese cobra and the Chinese krait.
Health officials in China have temporarily shut down all public transportation in Wuhan and two other nearby cities that have reported large numbers of infected patients. The drastic measures come just days before the Lunar New Year, when millions of people tend to travel for holiday celebrations.
The virus has sickened more than 600 people and killed 17 others in mainland China. Several other countries, including the U.S., have reported at least one confirmed case.
The mysterious illness has been compared to SARS, another type of coronavirus that originated in China in the early 2000s and spread to more than a dozen other countries, killing hundreds of people.
The Chinese scientists behind the new study cautioned that additional experimental studies are needed to confirm the origin of the virus.