A new coronavirus appears to have jumped from dogs to humans in Malaysia

Researchers have found evidence of a coronavirus jumping from dogs to humans (Getty)
Researchers have found evidence of a coronavirus jumping from dogs to humans (Getty)

Scientists have discovered a new coronavirus that appears to have originated in dogs and infected a handful of people in Malaysia several years ago.

If confirmed, it would be the eighth virus to make the jump from an animal to a human (following SARS and, of course, Covid-19) and would be the first ever recorded from a dog.

The existence of this jump was only uncovered following the explosion of Covid-19 into a worldwide pandemic.

Researchers began wondering if other viruses existed that has simply gone undetected until now.

Dr. Gregory Gray, an expert epidemiologist with 20 years of experience in respiratory viruses, tasked a graduate student in his lab with creating a testing tool that was more powerful and wider in scope than a standard Covid-19 test.

They created a tool that could find evidence of other coronaviruses – and uncovered the potential link to dogs when testing a batch of samples last year.

These came from patients in a hospital in Sarawek, Malaysia who were exhibiting symptoms similar to pneumonia back in 2017 and 2018.

Most of the patients were children.

Using the new tool, they found that eight out of 301 samples (2.7%) appeared to show that the patients’ upper respiratory tracts were infected with a new canine coronavirus.

‘That’s a pretty high prevalence of a [new] virus,’ Gray reported. ‘That’s remarkable.’

Wary of any potential issues with their detection process, the team sent the results off to be verified by virologist Anastasia Vlasova, a world expert on animal coronaviruses at Ohio State University.

‘Canine coronaviruses were not thought to be transmitted to people. It’s never been reported before,’ she said.

But after decoding the genome of the virus, Vlasova concurred with the findings of Gray’s team.

‘The majority of the genome was canine coronavirus,’ she said.

Kuala Lumpur city stands shrouded with haze in Malaysia (Credits: AP)
Kuala Lumpur city stands shrouded with haze in Malaysia (Credits: AP)

At present, all who tested positive appear to have recovered fully and there’s no suggestion at this point that a canine coronavirus can be transmitted person-to-person.

So, while it’s unlikely that we’ll suffer a new pandemic from dog-based coronavirus – it underlines that a threat from respiratory diseases is ever present.

‘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,’ Dr Vlasova said.

Professor Gray added: ‘How common this virus is, and whether it can be transmitted efficiently from dogs to humans or between humans, nobody knows

‘What is more important is 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 findings were published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

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