Novel coronavirus may have been transmitted to humans from snakes

In an update on the matter this week, officials with the CDC stated that China's current coronavirus outbreak has been linked to the illegal sale of wildlife at a market in Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of the virus is currently taking place. A new study published in the Journal of Medical Virology has shed light on the potential origins of this virus, revealing that it may have been transmitted to humans from snakes.

Animal-to-human virus transmission is nothing new — Ebola and Zika are two current and well-known examples of viruses that originated from animals and proceeded to cause deadly outbreaks for humans. The new coronavirus causing an outbreak of pneumonia in China is no exception; officials believe it was acquired by handling wildlife being illegally sold at a fish market.

In recent days, evidence has surfaced suggesting that this virus can be transmitted between humans in addition to humans from animals, though public health officials say the human-to-human transmission appears to be limited in nature. This is concerning because human-to-human transmission paves the way for a potentially widespread, even global, outbreak of the virus.

According to the newly published study, snakes may be the animal that transmitted the virus — which is being called 2019-nCoV — to humans. The findings are based on a genetic analysis of the virus. This novel version of the coronavirus is believed to have formed from a coronavirus with unknown origins that mixed with another type of coronavirus that is found in bats.

"Recombination within the viral receptor-binding protein may have allowed for cross-species transmission from snake to humans," according to the researchers. Though officials don't yet have a specific drug or vaccine that targets this new coronavirus, it is possible that existing antiviral drugs may be effective against it. Knowing the host animal behind the virus can also help officials limit its spread to humans.