Scientists identify canine coronavirus; marking 8th coronavirus if named a pathogen

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Researchers have detected a new canine coronavirus in a child hospitalized with pneumonia in Malaysia in 2018, according to findings published May 20 in the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases. If confirmed as a human pathogen, it could become the eighth coronavirus. 

It's uncertain whether the virus caused pneumonia in the patient, or if it poses a risk to humans.

"I think the key message here is that these things are probably happening all over the world, where people come in contact with animals, especially intense contact, and we're not picking them up," Gregory Gray, MD, study author and infectious disease epidemiologist at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University, told The New York Times. "We should be looking for these things. If we can catch them early and find out that these viruses are successful in the human host, then we can mitigate them before they become a pandemic virus." 

The researchers can't confirm whether a dog directly transmitted the new virus to the patient, as it's possible another intermediate animal host could have been responsible. 

Using a screening tool, researchers analyzed old patient specimens, taken from the nasal swab samples of 301 hospitalized pneumonia patients in Malaysia between 2017-18. The virus was identified in eight of the specimens, all among children under age 5 who lived in areas where they frequently came in contact with domestic and wild animals, according to the study. 

There are currently seven confirmed coronaviruses that can infect humans, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and viruses that cause the common cold. 

Further studies are needed to determine whether the virus is behind the pneumonia cases, or whether people who contract the virus from animals can transmit it to others.

The takeaway here is that animal viruses need to be monitored more carefully, Dr. Gray told the Times. 

"We need to shift toward a 'one health' approach of sampling humans who have intense exposure to animals and sampling their animals," he said. "And where we see a virus that has seemed to be beginning to adapt either way — a human virus, for instance in livestock, a livestock in humans — we need to pay attention to that."

 

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