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WHO experts see more evidence linking COVID-19 to bats

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) are seeing more evidence linking the novel coronavirus, now called the COVID-19, to bats.



In its situation report on February 11, the WHO said increasing evidence shows the link between the COVID-19 and other similar known coronaviruses (CoVs) circulating in bats, specifically those of the Rhinolophus bat sub-species.

Such sub-species are abundant and widely present in Southern China, and across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

The WHO cited recent studies indicating that more than 500 CoVs have been identified in bats in China.

“Serological studies conducted in rural population living close to bats’ natural habitat in caves revealed a 2.9-percent bat-CoV seroprevalence, demonstrating that humans’ exposure to bat-CoVs might be common,” the report read.

The WHO, however, said how the virus was transmitted to human remains unclear.

Bats are rare in markets in China, but are hunted and sold directly to restaurants for food, it noted.

“The current most likely hypothesis is that an intermediary host animal has played a role in the transmission,” the WHO said.

Chinese scientists earlier suggested that the novel coronavirus may have come from bats, although they have yet to determine its transmission to humans.

Recent reports said a group of researchers at the South China Agricultural University is looking at pangolins as the “potential intermediate host.”

Pangolins are considered as the world’s most trafficked animal and are poached for their scales. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified it as a critically endangered animal.

A team from WHO is now in China to work with Chinese scientists in identifying the animal source of the COVID-19.

The new coronavirus was believed to have originated from a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, Hubei province in China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak with more than 31,000 confirmed cases.

The WHO said identifying the animal source of the COVID-2019 would help “ensure that there will be no further future similar outbreaks with the same virus and will also help understand the initial spread of the disease in the Wuhan area.”

“It would also increase our understanding of the virus and help us understand how these viruses jump from animals to humans,” it added.

The WHO appealed for the strengthening of food control and market hygiene activities in live food markets to protect people from similar and other zoonotic diseases.

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