MANILA - Did COVID-19 come from raccoon dogs in Wuhan, China?
An infectious disease expert on Tuesday said reports that a raccoon dog has been linked to the origin of the novel coronavirus warrant further investigation, saying the data could be used to prepare for another pandemic.
Dr. Rontgene Solante, a member of the government's vaccine expert panel, said any data that would link a wild animal to the novel coronavirus would need to be validated.
A New York Times report earlier said Chinese scientists, including some affiliated with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, posted raw data from swabs around Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market to GISAID, an international repository of genetic sequences of viruses.
An international team of virus experts later discovered that a swab taken from a cart in Wuhan market in early 2020 contained genetic material from the virus and a raccoon dog. This runs counter to a Chinese study in February 2022 that said samples from Wuhan market were positive for the coronavirus but suggested that the virus had come from infected people who were shopping or working in the market, rather than from animals being sold there.
Solante said the new report is important as it seeks to know more about the origin of Sars-Cov-2 in Wuhan, which first reported 44 cases of "mysterious pneumonia" in 2019.
"There were hypotheses that it came from exotic animals which were brought to that market and they did testing on some of these animals and found not so conclusve results that the virus originated from...first it was a snake, it was a pangolin," he said.
He added: "But in this particular report, the [World Health Organization] is really looking into the data because it resembles a lot more of the virus and I hope we can get a conclusive rpeort in the next few days because for me, the implication here is that if this is coming from an animal, there is a possiblity that it can recur again and we can have another Sars-Cov 2."
"It can mutate in these animals and become more virulent."
Raccoon dogs, which are known to be susceptible to coronaviruses, are closely related to foxes and are on European Union’s list of invasive species of concern. Raccoon dogs are also among 38 species of wild animals being sold in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019.
The study showed more than 47,000 wild animals were sold in the city’s markets in the two and a half years before the disease emerged.
Solante noted that in looking at infectious disease, it is important to find out if the animal is an accidental host or an intermediate host. "We need to know if these animals can be carrying this without being infected and possibly transporting or transmitting to a human again. That would be dangerous," he said.
More knowledge about the origins of the pandemic, he said, would be important to prevent another pandemic. "Same virus but more virulent," he said.