Researchers have identified a previously unknown type of coronavirus found in a child who had pneumonia in Sarawak, Malaysia, in 2017 or 2018. It’s the first coronavirus known to spread from dogs to humans.
This “canine coronavirus” is called CCoV-HuPn-2018. It’s different from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
If experts confirm CCoV-HuPn-2018 as a pathogen, it will be the eighth known coronavirus that can cause infection in humans. But the researchers say there’s no current threat to people, and there’s no proof that it can spread from one person to another.
The Discovery of the Canine Coronavirus
The discovery of CCoV-HuPn-2018 began when Gregory Gray, MD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University, wondered whether another coronavirus was already threatening humans somewhere around the world. He didn’t have a tool to find out because COVID-19 tests look only for SARS-CoV-2, not any other coronaviruses.
A graduate student, Leshan Xiu, created a test similar to the COVID-19 one. But this swab would have be able to spot any coronavirus, even unknown kinds.
Gray and Xiu used the new test to look at 301 archived pneumonia cases. They found eight cases of the previously undiscovered virus, seven of which were in children. Most of the people were from Malaysia’s indigenous groups and lived in villages where they regularly had close contact with animals.
All eight people recovered from their illness after about 4 to 6 days in the hospital.
How the Virus Could Affect Humans
Experts stress that there’s no need to be wary of your dog, or to worry about this coronavirus causing another pandemic. Instead, they’re using the newfound virus as a wakeup call, urging everyone to make sure our health systems are prepared for the next outbreak.
They’re looking into animal-human interactions, the origins of the virus, how it acts, and what kind of issues it could cause in people. These things will help researchers understand any risk factors of CCoV-HuPn-2018 and how to control it before it might become a problem.
In further studies after its discovery, researchers found that CCoV-HuPn-2018 was able to spread to humans because of a deletion, or change, in its genome. The specific deletion isn’t usually found in canine coronaviruses. Instead, it’s in human versions, similar to the mutation in SARS and SARS-CoV-2.
Research suggests that the deletion in CCoV-HuPn-2018 helps it spread from dogs to humans. But because it was identified early on, scientists will be able to study and control it better so that it doesn’t trigger an outbreak.
Experts say that the best way to prevent pandemics is to continue testing to find unknown viruses. As they learn more about how these viruses spread to humans, they hope to be better equipped to stop them before they become a worldwide concern.