Researchers have uncovered a new coronavirus that has jumped from a dog to a human.
Discovered in a child with pneumonia in Malaysia in 2018, the novel canine-like coronavirus appears to have jumped from dog to human. The possible pathogen could represent the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans and its discovery suggests coronaviruses are being transmitted from animals to humans more commonly than was previously thought.
The findings have been published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Animal to human transmission of coronaviruses
Working with visiting scholar Leshan Xiu, a Ph.D. student, Gregory Gray, M.D., a professor of medicine, global health, and environmental health at the Duke University, was on a team that developed a molecular diagnostic tool in 2020 to detect most coronaviruses from the Coronaviridae family – including SARS-CoV-2.
The team used the tool to examine 301 archived pneumonia cases. They picked up signals for canine coronaviruses from eight people hospitalised with pneumonia in Sarawak, a state in East Malaysia. Furthermore, researchers at Ohio State, led by Anastasia N. Vlasova, grew a virus from one of the clinical specimens, and through genome reconstruction have identified it as a novel canine coronavirus.
“How common this virus is, and whether it can be transmitted efficiently from dogs to humans or between humans, nobody knows,” said Gray.
“What’s more important is that these coronaviruses are likely spilling over to humans from animals much more frequently than we know. We are missing them because most hospital diagnostic tests only pick up known human coronaviruses.
“There are probably multiple canine coronaviruses circulating and spilling over into humans that we don’t know about.”
Gray suggests that Sarawak could be a rich place to detect them, since it is an equatorial area with rich biodiversity, and that diagnostic tools like the one developed to find this virus have the potential to identify other viruses new to humans before they can cause a pandemic.
“Many of those spillovers are dead ends, they don’t ever leave that first human host,” Gray said.
“But if we really want to mitigate the threat, we need better surveillance where humans and animals intersect, and among people who are sick enough to get hospitalised for novel viruses.
“These pathogens don’t just cause a pandemic overnight. It takes many years for them to adapt to the human immune system and cause infection, and then to become efficient in human-to-human transmission. We need to look for these pathogens and detect them early.”