A DEADLY new virus sweeping the globe could have reportedly come from bats – like the SARS and Ebola viruses before it.

Scientists in China claim that the Wuhan coronavirus, which has so far killed nine, shares a common ancestor with a virus found only in fruit bats.

 The deadly coronavirus could have been spread to humans by bats, experts claim

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The deadly coronavirus could have been spread to humans by bats, experts claimCredit: Getty Images – Getty

The global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) killed more than 8,000 people between 2002 and 2003.

It was thought to have been spread from bats to civet cats at an animal reservoir before being transmitted to humans in the Guangdong province of southern China.

Meanwhile the major Ebola epidemic which struck West Africa between 2013 and 2016 is also understood to have been spread by bats, according to the World Health Organisation.

Previously, experts believed the new virus wouldn’t cause an epidemic as serious as SARS because its genes were different.

But this latest study, published in China Science Bulletin last night, revealed that the virus has a “strong binding affinity” to a human protein called ACE2.

The researchers said that this binding protein had a high resemblance to that of SARS.

Underestimated

They also traced the evolution of the new strain of coronavirus in a government database and found that on the evolutionary tree, it belonged to Betacoronavirus.

The two shared about 70 to 80 per cent of genes, less than the similarity between pigs and humans.

Their findings suggest that the danger posed by the new strain of coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, may have been underestimated in the research community.

The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate

the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Liberation Army and Institut Pasteur of Shanghai

The research was carried out jointly by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Liberation Army and Institut Pasteur of Shanghai.

They estimated how the viral strain would interact with cells in the human respiratory system using computer simulation based on released data.

In a statement, the researchers said: “The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.”

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But a senior researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who asked not to be named, said the findings should be treated with caution.

He told the South China Morning Post: “It is based on calculation by a computer model.

“Whether it will match what happens in real life is inconclusive.

“The binding protein is important, but it is just one of the many things under investigation. There may be other proteins involved.”

Fast spreading

The expert believes that the new strain was an RNA virus, meaning that its mutation speed was 100 times faster than that of a DNA virus such as smallpox.

Gao Fu, director general of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, earlier confirmed the new virus was connected with wild animals.

He said that coronavirus, which has sicked at least 400 people, started at a seafood market in Wuhan, eastern China.

Gao warned that the major challenge was that the new strain was adapting and mutating.

 The new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, causes symptoms that may start as a cold and eventually end up developing into pneumonia

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The new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, causes symptoms that may start as a cold and eventually end up developing into pneumonia

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an airborne virus, spread in a similar way to colds and the flu.

The virus attacks the respiratory system, causing lung lesions.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

It is incredibly contagious and is spread through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

In most cases, you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.

There is no vaccine for coronavirus.

In 2003 an outbreak of a similar virus, SARS, infected more than 8,000 people in 37 countries before it was brought under control, killing 800 of those worldwide.

It comes as Taiwan and the US both confirmed a case of the lethal SARS-like virus – after Australian officials said a man tested amid fears he picked up the bug in China was clear.

The new strain has also hit South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Macau with the World Health Organization predicting it will continue to cross international borders in the coming days.

It could be declared a global health crisis today after cases of the mystery bug increased from 300 in one day.

However, experts at Imperial College London predict the true number of cases could be far greater – with estimates closer to 1,700.

Brit threat ‘low’

While NHS chiefs have urged doctors in the UK to be alert to signs of the killer virus, they said today the threat to Brits is “low”.

Passengers flying into London from China will be checked for coronavirus as the killer strain spreads though.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, at King’s College London, said given our inter-connected world, “the potential for the virus to spread to different continents was and is high”.

Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham added: “For a virus outbreak that was identified around a month ago, the number of exported cases and the recent uplift of numbers is concerning; particularly as the suspected source of the outbreak – a fish market that supposedly also traded in live animals – has been closed for some time.

“This, together with reported chains of human to human transmission means this is an outbreak that the international community needs to take seriously.

“We need to identify the source and determine the level of community infection and spread – only then can this be brought under control.”

Officials are considering putting Wuhan – a city of 11 million, a larger population than London – on lockdown, with people being told to stop travelling and to avoid crowds.

It comes at one of the busiest times of the year in China as people prepare to celebrate the Lunar New Year holidays.

Coronavirus patient arrives at hospital as China warns deadly virus is ‘mutating’





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