Scientists swabbed patients in Malaysia with a test that detects a range of coronaviruses and found something unusual — a significant share of them were infected with a dog virus.
Eight out of 301 samples from patients with what looked like regular pneumonia tested positive for a new canine coronavirus, a rate of 2.7% that’s “remarkable,” according to an NPR report.
“That’s a pretty high prevalence of a [new] virus,” Dr. Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University’s Global Health Institute, told NPR.
Scientists at U.S. universities double-checked the samples and believe the virus hopped directly into humans, underscoring the recurring risk of coronaviruses transferring from the animal kingdom.
The original 2003 SARS outbreak was believed to have traveled from civets to people and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome came from camels.
NPR reported that Dr. Gray had challenged a graduate student in his lab, Leshan Xiu, to develop a test that would detect all coronaviruses, even unknown ones, as COVID-19 swept the globe, resulting in the dog-virus discovery.
Anastasia Vlasova, a virologist at Ohio State University, found a key mutation, or deletion, in the genome when analyzing the samples from Malaysia. She told NPR the deletion appears to be associated with the virus’ ability to jump from dogs to humans.
There is no evidence the new pathogen is transmitting human-to-human — at least not yet — but their findings underscore the potential prevalence of coronaviruses and the need to root them out before they spread.