Coronavirus: a virus similar to SARS-CoV-2 was already circulating in Cambodia in 2010

Could we have experienced a global pandemic 10 years earlier? Scientists from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris conducted in 2010, virological studies on bats in Cambodia. 10 years later, after storage in a freezer at -80 degrees, the samples taken were recently analyzed by a team from the National Museum of Natural History.

According to Alexandre Hassanin, who works at the Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity (ISYEB) and writes for our colleagues at West France, the samples were tested for Sarbecoviruses, group from the coronavirus family, developed in several species of bats. Two samples were found to be positive by PCR reaction and sequencing was carried out by the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

This sequencing revealed two variants of a new virus close to SARS-CoV-2, the virus currently responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic. According to this research relayed by West France, we can deduce that viruses close to SARS-CoV-2 circulate for over a decade in some species of bats in Southeast Asia.

The pangolin contaminated by the bat?

So which of the pangolin or the bat is “responsible” for the Covid-19 pandemic? This research revives the question a little. In fact, we know that Sarbecoviruses are particularly transmitted by bats of the genus Rhinolophus. It is moreover this type of bat which was made (very probably) responsible for the epidemic of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) which appeared for the first time in China in 2002, also being a Sarbecovirus.

One of the theories often advanced by scientists, regarding the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans, is that the bat would initially have transmitted the virus to the pangolin before the latter transmits it to us in turn. This hypothesis is corroborated by recent research from the National Museum of Natural History, explains Alexandre Hassanin in the regional daily.

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Indeed, the discovery of these viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 in Rhinolophus bats captured in Cambodia 10 years ago, shows that the animal might have encountered pangolins in Southeast Asian caves. The arrival of the virus in China could therefore be explained by the trafficking of pangolin, poached for its scales, which has intensified in recent years. Indeed, many species of pangolin have been exported to China, which may have facilitated the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in the country.

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