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Zoonotic disease
Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from?
  1. Shao-Lun Zhai,
  2. Wen-Kang Wei,
  3. Dian-Hong Lv,
  4. Zhi-Hong Xu,
  5. Qin-Ling Chen,
  6. Ming-Fei Sun,
  7. Feng Li and
  8. Dan Wang
  1. Institute of Animal Health, Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Scientific Observation and Experiment Station of Veterinary Drugs and Diagnostic Techniques of Guangdong Province, Ministry of Agriculture of Rural Affairs, and Key Laboratory of Animal Disease Prevention of Guangdong Province, Guangzhou, 510640, China
  2. Department of Biology and Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Science, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, USA
  1. email: zhaishaolun{at}

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AT the end of 2019, a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was discovered in Wuhan city, Hubei province, central China.1 Due to the close genetic relationship with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV), it was renamed as SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

Since the first case report in China, SARS-CoV-2 has, at the time of writing, also been reported in 28 other countries. Up to 22 February 2020, 76,396 case of infection and 2348 deaths have been reported, and continue to increase in China.2

SARS-CoV-2 might have originated from animals

The initial case report suggested that SARS-CoV-2 had transmission potential from animal to human.3 On 7 February 2020, a study suggested that the pangolin was a potential intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2.4 It further indicated that SARS-CoV-2 might have originated from animals.

In recent years, using an One Health approach, people have effectively responded to important zoonotic pathogens, including SARS-CoV, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), Ebola virus and Nipah virus. Among these, bats are often important natural reservoirs. Generally, bat-origin viruses are difficult to spread directly to people. They need some potential intermediate host to transmit to people and cause human diseases.

During the discovery of potential intermediate hosts for SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, multidisciplinary experts, including doctors, medical scientists, virologists, microbiologists and veterinarians, all played an important role.5, 6 Using a One Health approach, the route of the virus spread and control measures were identified, which was useful in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

SARS-CoV-2 is an emerging and zoonotic virus, and has a huge public health impact.7 At present, although SARS-CoV-2 has been found in bats and pangolins and it is likely to have spread to people, there is still much information about the virus that is unknown, including how it moves between animals and people, and whether it has other hosts.

In China, there are several tens of thousands of farms, where hundreds of species are raised, including snakes, civets, bears, deer, turtles, bamboo rats, porcupines, foxes, mink and birds.

We call for more scientists and those running these farms to make stronger collaborative efforts to trace the origin of SARS-CoV-2.


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