Posted on: February 5, 2020 at 1:54 pm
Last updated: May 28, 2020 at 9:41 am

Since December 2019, news surrounding the Corona Virus Outbreak has been making headlines and has caused panic around the globe. To date, the virus, which is being called 2019-nCoV, has killed 494 people. It has infected more than 24 600 people in at least 26 countries worldwide, with eleven confirmed cases in the United States and four in Canada. These numbers are changing all the time, for an up to date real-time map, click here.


The rapid spread of the virus has left doctors all over the globe scrambling to find answers. Scientists and medical researchers all over the world have been asking the same questions- Where did it start? How is it transmitted? Why is it so infectious?

The pressure has been immense as the number of confirmed cases has continued to rise, but scientists think they may have found the answer to at least some of their questions.


A Market in Wuhan

Scientists were able to determine that the disease first started spreading in the city of Wuhan, China, at the Hunan seafood wholesale market. At this market, shoppers could buy a variety of wildlife, including poultry, snakes, bats, and other farm animals [2].

There have since, however, been a number of people who have been diagnosed with 2019-nCoV who didn’t have exposure at this market or any other like it, which indicates that the virus is being spread from person-to-person, not just animal-to-person [1].

Bats May be the Culprit

Scientists are now looking toward bats as the culprit for starting the outbreak of the virus. A study published in the journal Nature, found that the genome sequence of 2019-nCoV is 96 percent identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus [4].

Research published in the Journal of Medical Virology supports the notion that the virus was started in a wet market. Researchers studied the genetic code of 2019-nCoV and found that it is most closely related to two samples of SARS-like coronavirus, which suggests that it may have also had a bat origin. Upon closer examination, however, they noticed that the protein codes in 2019-nCoV were similar to those used in snakes [1,2].


So are snakes the real culprit? Likely not. According to an article by CNN, the reason snakes appear to be the source of the virus is because they are predators of bats.“Snakes often hunt for bats in wild. Reports indicate that snakes were sold in the local seafood market in Wuhan, raising the possibility that the 2019-nCoV might have jumped from the host species — bats — to snakes and then to humans at the beginning of this coronavirus outbreak.” [3]

Zoonotic Viruses

There is much that is still unknown about how the current 2019-nCoV spreads and most of the knowledge that we do have is based on what we know about similar coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are found in many different animal species, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats [5].

In rare cases, these animal viruses can infect humans. When this happens, they are referred to as Zoonotic viruses. Zoonotic viruses and diseases can be transmitted to humans in four ways:

Direct contact. This could come from being bitten or scratched by an animal, or could even come from petting or touching animals. Any time you come into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucus, feces, or other body fluids of an infected animal, you could also become infected.

Indirect contact. This involves coming into contact with the areas where animals live or roam, or objects or surfaces that have come into contact with their germs.

Vector-borne. A vector could be a tick or a mosquito. When the vector bites you, you are infected with the virus that they are carrying.

Foodborne. This involves eating or drinking something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected animal [6].

A Potential Vaccine

Scientists have recently determined that 2019-nCoV shares 80 percent of its genome with the coronavirus that was responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003. In both cases, bats were the original hosts, then they infected other animals through their poop or saliva. These animals then became intermediaries and infected humans [7].

Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading in the UK, explained that the new coronavirus is essentially SARS that spreads more easily, but causes less damage. The similarity of the two viruses, however, is good news for scientists looking for a way to stop the spread of 2019-nCoV.

“This indicates that treatments and vaccines developed for SARS should work for the Wuhan virus,” Jones said [7].

How To Protect Yourself

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the best way to protect yourself from coronavirus is to practice basic flu-prevention measures, like washing your hands regularly, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue rather than your hand, maintaining a social distance (one meter or three feet) from people, especially those who are coughing or sneezing [8].

WHO also recommends seeing a doctor if you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. This combination could be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition, particularly if you’ve been in contact with someone who has recently traveled to China [8].

Coronavirus Didn’t Come From ‘Bat Soup

Finally, let’s be clear that coronavirus did not come from people eating bat soup. The video that surfaced of a young woman named Wang Mengyun eating a whole bat with chopsticks was taken in 2016 in Palau, an island country located in the western Pacific ocean. Mengyun is the host of an online travel show, which is what the video was filmed for, and she has apologized for the footage and the confusion.

 “I am sorry everyone. I should not have eaten a bat,” she said, according to the South China Morning Post. “[I] had no idea during filming that there was such a virus,” she continued. “I realized it only recently.” [7]

Wang Mengyun eating a whole bat with chopsticks was taken in 2016

Remain Calm

It is important to remember in situations like these that people panic and this creates the perfect environment for misinformation to spread. Be careful what you read, and remember that basic hygiene that you would normally practice to prevent the common cold and flu are the best way for you to protect yourself.

Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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