COVID-19: Did SARS-CoV-2 originate in raccoon dogs from Wuhan wet market? New data gives links

Meanwhile, Israel reports new COVID-19 variant — a combination of BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants of Omicron

By Taran Deol
Published: Friday 17 March 2023
The common raccoon dog, also called the Chinese or Asian raccoon dog, is a small, heavy-set, fox-like canid native to East Asia. Named for its raccoon-like face markings, it is most closely related to foxes. Photo: iStock

There is new evidence about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2, suggesting the disease might have originated in raccoon dogs, according to a new report. At the same time, cases of another COVID-19 variant have emerged from Israel even as India is in the middle of a nasty flu outbreak dominated by the H3N2 virus strain. 

Researchers and scientists worldwide have found that raccoon dogs sold illegally at the Wuhan wet market could be potential carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019, when respiratory illnesses had begun emerging in China, reported American magazine The Atlantic

Read more: Winged wonders: We should not resent bats, because we need them

The common raccoon dog, also called the Chinese or Asian raccoon dog, is a small, heavy-set, fox-like canid (dog family) native to East Asia. Named for its raccoon-like face markings, it is most closely related to foxes. 

Even after more than three years of the pandemic, the world’s understanding of the virus’s origins is still preliminary as we collect data, which increasingly proves it was a zoonotic event

“The new analysis may offer some of the clearest and most compelling evidence that the world will ever get in support of an animal origin for the virus,” the report said.

Meanwhile, a combination of BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants of Omicron has now been detected in Israel. This has added to the already massive pool of offspring circulating in various degrees with geographical disparities. 

The patients’ symptoms included the usual fever, headaches and muscle aches but did not require special medical attention.

India has been recording an uptick in COVID-19 cases, a potential function of increased testing due to the seasonal flu that is currently circulating.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has written to Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat — the six states which have seen a spike in cases of both COVID-19 and flu infections

For the past 12 months, India’s COVID-19 graph for cases per million has looked uneventful, barring a small increase around July 2022. This is the quietest the situation has been on the pandemic front since 2020. 

Rumbles suggest the World Health Organization (WHO) is mulling over announcing an official end to the pandemic. Such decisions have always been complex since factors beyond the epidemiology of the disease come into play

“The end of an epidemic must be understood from a multitude of angles given it doesn’t end at the same time for everyone,” Erica Charters, director of the Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, wrote in journal Centaurus.

But more importantly, she noted the end of an epidemic depends on more than just medical data given it has political, social and economic ramifications.

“The most pessimistic forecasts in this analysis do not predict a massive global surge by June 30, 2023,” said the latest projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent population health research centre at the University of Washington Medicine, United States. 

The projections were released on March 8, 2023. It cited a heterogenous combination of natural infection and vaccine-derived protection against SARS-CoV-2 as of December 12, 2022. 

China, on the other hand, is expected to face another increase in cases due to its loyalty to the failed zero-COVID policy. The rise can be mitigated by implementing appropriate measures and ramping up vaccinations. 

Read more: How China is controlling the COVID origins narrative — silencing critics and locking up dissenters

“The characteristics of future COVID-19 variants are inherently difficult to predict and our forecasts do show considerable differences in outcomes as a function of these variant properties,” IHME cautioned as we move into the next phase of the pandemic. 

While it remains uncertain what kind of variant may emerge in the future, Omicron’s dominance since November 2021 has been an interesting one, spawning sub-variants at an unprecedented rate. 

“The XBB omicron subvariant is now as distant from wild-type SARS-CoV-2 as SARS-CoV-2 is from SARS-CoV, such that XBB should probably be called SARS-CoV-3,” argued a commentary published in The Lancet journal earlier this week on imprinted hybrid immunity against an XBB infection.

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