Bats carry tons of viruses. But scientists think one in particular has recently infected the human population and killed nearly 1,400 people: China’s new coronavirus.
Scientists don’t really know why, but bats usually don’t get sick from the viruses inside them. A recent genetic study, however, found that the coronavirus in bats and the one making humans sick are a 96% match.
In the past, other intermediary animals have effectively passed viruses from bats to humans. For example, humans contracted the SARS coronavirus from civet cats, which caught it from bats. And the MERS coronavirus traveled from bats to camels to humans.
This time Chinese scientists think pangolins could be the middlemen, but their research hasn’t been made public yet. The scaley, armadillo-like creatures, the most trafficked animals in the world, are used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s possible that pangolins came into contact with bats in markets or other human enclosures, virologists said.