Scientists from the Wuhan Institute for Virology — located in China’s epicenter of the outbreak, now under quarantine — published a paper Thursday that confirmed the fast-spreading virus is in the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that hit Asia in 2003 and killed almost 800 people, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Based on oral swabs, anal swabs, and blood collected from seven patients at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, the scientists were able to genetically sequence the virus. Then they tested it against a database of known viruses and found a 96.2% match with a coronavirus known to live in bats, which is also believed to be the source of the SARS and MERS outbreaks.
Ebola, the deadly virus that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016, is also believed to have originated from bats.
The researchers found that the new virus uses the same receptors as SARS to hack into a victim’s lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, headaches, and pneumonia. This paper is the first to describe the new virus, dubbed nCoV-2019, in detail.
The outbreak is believed to have originated at a meat and seafood market in Wuhan where live animals were slaughtered and wild animals were also sold.
Another report from China earlier this week claimed that the coronavirus may have originated in snakes, which were reportedly sold in the Wuhan market. However, that report also suggested that since snakes hunt bats in the wild, they could have been the original source of the virus.