What we know about the Wuhan coronavirus

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Like SARS and MERS, the Wuhan outbreak evolved from coronavirus strains that previously affected only animals. Here’s how.

At least 10 cities home to 33 million people are in lockdown amid the spread of a new strain of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, and has spread around the world.

The exact origin of 2019-nCoV is less clear but a controversial new theory published by Chinese virologists two days ago pointed the finger at snakes, although some scientists are sceptical the virus could jump from a cold-blooded animal to a warm-blooded one. Wildlife sold at the Huanan “wet” market for human consumption included wolf cubs, civet cats, bats, dogs, pigs, snakes, chickens, donkeys, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and deer. Wet markets place people and live and dead animals in close contact, making it easy for a virus to jump species.

The Journal of Medical Virology paper, published on January 22 found the virus appears to be a mix, or “recombination” of two coronaviruses, one that is known to infect bats and the other of unknown origin.

 

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