Have you seen the movie Contagion? Released in back in 2011, it showed how a deadly disease could easily spread throughout the world thanks to the convenience of air travel. How that deadly disease started was accurately shown in the film’s final scene:
Pathogens crossing from animals to humans has long been established by science. The recent outbreak of a pneumonia-like illness in China and the discovery that the virus closely resembles those found in bats just made the movie a lot more scarier. It just happened in real life, in our present times.
ScienceMag has details from a transcript of an interview with Xu Jianguo, head of an evaluation committee advising the Chinese government on what we know so far of this outbreak:
Q: The virus has been isolated from one patient, is that correct?
A: Correct. Two groups isolated the virus from samples from one patient. The viruses are nearly identical in morphology under electron microscopy. Researchers did laboratory investigations of 34 patients. A total of 15 were positive for the novel virus, [based on] sequencing samples of [fluid injected into the lung and collected for examination]. The teams got complete genome sequence data from about 10 patients. They are now attempting to isolate the virus from those samples as well. There are 19 cases with no evidence of the virus. There is no information available for the results of the remaining 25 cases.
Q: How close is this new virus to the SARS coronavirus?
A: The virus is similar to some of the published viruses collected from bats. But it is not close to SARS and not close to MERS.
Q: Is there any progress in tracing the original source of the virus?
A: I have no information. Personally, I’m interested, too. The virus looks like viruses isolated from bats, but how it was transmitted from bats to people is still a question. Several groups in China have been working on bat coronaviruses for years. I imagine they’re working on this but so far there is no information.
Q: Are other live animal markets being checked?
A: The Wuhan market has been closed. I have no information about other [markets]. Wild animals carry the risk of exposing people to new viruses. I think we should have more strict regulations and inspections of markets that sell wild animals, especially since the source of the new coronavirus has not been identified and eliminated.
One fatality has already been linked to the outbreak. Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines has imposed screenings of travelers from mainland China. Hopefully the disease is contained and there won’t be a repeat of the SARS or MERS epidemic a few years ago.