A NEW coronavirus from dogs has been found in hospitalised children.
It’s the eight coronavirus known to infect humans – with the virus that causes Covid-19 being one other.
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US researchers said if the virus can start spreading with ease among humans, “all bets are off” and it could cause another pandemic.
They identified the virus, named CCoV-HuPn-2018, from old samples taken in Sarawak, East Malaysia, in 2018.
It was well before SARS-CoV-2 had emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, causing the Covid pandemic.
The swabs of 301 people hospitalised with pneumonia were analysed this year, and eight were positive for some kind of canine coronavirus.
All but one were children, with one just five and a half months old.
Co author of the study Dr Anastasia Vlasova, of The Ohio State University, looked closely at one sample.
She grew the virus in the lab and was able to confirm it had come from man’s best friend, but had fragments of viruses from cats and pigs, too.
The infected humans all showed respiratory symptoms, but in dogs, it would cause stomach issues.
All patients had recovered and were discharged after four to six days, following oxygen therapy to help them breathe.
It is not clear at this stage whether the virus can cause severe disease in adults.
And the researchers have not been able to show that the patients picked up the virus from their own pets.
The researchers plan to further study the CCoV-HuPn-2018 to determine how harmful it is – or could become – to people.
It is unknown if the virus can be passed from person to person, or how well the human immune system can fight it off.
But it was found that about half of the genes of the canine coronavirus are similar to those of Covid.
Project leader Professor Gregory Gray, of Duke University, North Carolina, said: "How common this virus is, and whether it can be transmitted efficiently from dogs to humans or between humans, nobody knows."
Dr Vlasova said she didn’t think people needed to be wary of their fluffy friends – but that she would be more wary of how much “I allow my babies around dogs”.
What are the eight human coronaviruses?
- 229E (alpha coronavirus)
- NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
- OC43 (beta coronavirus)
- HKU1 (beta coronavirus)
- MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS)
- SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)
- SARS-CoV-2 (which causes Covid-19)
- Possibly CCoV-HuPn-2018
"I cannot rule out the possibility that at some point this new coronavirus will become a prevalent human pathogen.
“Once a coronavirus is able to infect a human, all bets are off.
"At this point, we don't see any reasons to expect another pandemic from this virus. But I can't say that's never going to be a concern."
The study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, highlights a growing concern that bugs passed from animal are becoming more prevalent.
As humans have increasing close contact with wild animals, by destroying ecosystems and exploiting wildlife, it increases the odds of a “zoonotic” disease.
Ebola, MERS, SARS and Covid are all examples of a zoonotic disease thought to have started with an animal in contact with a human.
The United Nations Environment Department (UNEP) – a division of the UN – say the coronavirus most likely originated in bats.
And experts often warn the next pandemic caused by "Disease X" is "only around the corner".
Dr Gray said: "These coronaviruses are likely spilling over to humans from animals much more frequently than we know.
"We are missing them because most hospital diagnostic tests only pick up known human coronaviruses."
The researchers believe that, although only eight cases of CCoV-HuPn-2018 have been identified, the dog virus or similar ones are thought to be spreading among people in Malaysia.
Dr Gray said: "There are probably multiple canine coronaviruses circulating and spilling over into humans that we don't know about."
He said it takes many years for pathogens to adapt to a human and cause infection, and then evolve to spread between humans.
Many spillovers into humans don’t leave the first host.
But Dr Gray said: “If we really want to mitigate the threat, we need better surveillance where humans and animals intersect, and among people who are sick enough to get hospitalised for novel viruses."
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