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THE killer coronavirus DID come from bats and is a version of SARS, the first scientific evidence has revealed.
Experts analysed samples from coronavirus patients – including those who worked at the seafood market where the outbreak began in December.
It revealed similarities with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronaviruses, which evolved from bats in China.
The SARS pandemic in 2002-2003 infected 8,100 people and 774 people died.
While the number of people affected by the new coronavirus, has risen around ten times quicker – with more than 17,000 people infected worldwide.
Two new scientific studies, published today in the journal Nature, have together provided the first formal evidence on the deadly new illness.
Their findings confirm that the Wuhan coronavirus is a type of SARS – but one that can spread more easily.
It comes afters scientists in China previously claimed that the killer illness may have spread to humans from bat soup.
Footage and images later circulated purporting to show people eating the Chinese delicacy.
Samples from early stages
Researchers analysed samples from seven patients with severe pneumonia, six of whom were identified as workers from the Wuhan market.
They found that full-length genome sequences – which determined the DNA of the virus – from five of the patients, were over 99.9 per cent identical to each other.
They also shared 79.5 per cent sequence identity with SARS coronaviruses.
According to the study, the virus sequence is 96 per cent identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus, suggesting bats are a probable source of this outbreak.
Scientists also found the new virus, named 2019-nCoV, enters cells through the same route as SARS coronaviruses.
Antibodies isolated from patients infected with the new strain are shown to have the potential to neutralise the virus.
The research suggests that a previously identified horse antibody against SARS also neutralises the virus.
However, whether or not these cross-react with the current strain needs to be confirmed using serum from humans who have recovered from SARS.
Zheng-Li Shi, a virologist and researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and colleagues, developed a test that can differentiate 2019-nCoV from all other human coronaviruses.
They found that while it was detected in initial oral swab samples, subsequent samples taken about 10 days later did not have a positive viral result.
This suggests the most likely route of transmission is through the airways of individuals.
However, the authors say other routes may be possible, and more patient data is needed to investigate transmission further.
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."
In a separate study researchers looked at a 41-year-old male market worker admitted to a hospital in Wuhan on December 26 2019, who experienced symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever, chest tightness and a cough.
What to do if you're worried you've got coronavirus
BRITISH health chiefs have raised the coronavirus risk to the public from low to moderate.
Health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus.
The majority of those who have been infected with the virus so far have either visited China or been in close contact with someone who has.
But if you are concerned known the signs is one of the best ways to protect yourself from 2019-nCoV.
Symptoms usually include:
- a cough
- a high temperature
- difficulty breathing
In most cases, you won't know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus.
But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract, it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.
It is incredibly contagious and is spread through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.
The best way to prevent catching any form of coronavirus is to practice good hygiene.
If you have cold-like symptoms, you can help protect others by staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with others.
You should also cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze then throw it away and wash your hands.
Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces which you may have touched is also important.
If you have returned from Wuhan in the last 14 days:
- Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with other flu viruses
- Call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the city
- your recent travel to the city
If you are in Northern Ireland, call your GP.
Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus.
Meanwhile, leading symptom-checking app Doctorlink has been updated to recognise signs of coronavirus.
Despite a combination of antibiotic, antiviral and glucocorticoid therapy, he exhibited respiratory failure and his condition did not improve after three days of treatment.
The authors performed genome sequencing on a sample of fluid taken from his lung.
They identified a novel virus and found that the viral genome shared 89.1% similarity with SARS-like coronaviruses from bats.
But the researchers say it is not possible to conclude from the analysis of a single patient that this coronavirus is the cause of the current outbreak.
Ian Jones, professor of virology at University of Reading, said: "These two scientific papers provide the formal evidence for what is already widely known.
"2019-nCoV is a bat virus, and Sars-CoV, which caused an epidemic in 2002/3, is the closest relative seen previously in people.
"Most encouragingly though, this indicates that treatments and vaccines developed for SARS should work for the Wuhan virus."
Dr Skinner added: "Together, these papers describe the first steps in understanding the evolutionary and epidemiological origins of WHCV/2019-nCoV.
"The speed of their appearance attests to the rapid pace and extent of scientific and technological progress, globally – but not least in China, since the Sars epidemic in 2002-3.
"They confirm some of the early suspicions, discount others and, typically, raise even more questions that many are already trying to answer – but those answers need more information, which may not be forthcoming for several years."
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