Scientists have discovered a new type of coronavirus in human patients hospitalized with pneumonia that originated in dogs. If confirmed as a pathogen, this may be the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans.
According to a report from Reuters, the researchers tested nasal swab samples taken from 301 pneumonia patients at a hospital in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak. Eight of the samples came back positive for a canine coronavirus.
Genetic testing showed that the new virus, known as CCoV-HuPn-2018, shares characteristics with other coronaviruses known to have infected cats and pigs. However, the strain was found to be mostly similar to one that is known to have infected dogs.
The experts report that the coronavirus also contained a genetic deletion, or mutation, that was not found in any known canine coronaviruses but was present in human strains such as SARS-COV and SARS-COV-2. The source of SARS-COV-2, which causes COVID-19, has not yet been identified.
While the findings indicate that the virus likely jumped from animals to humans, and did so recently, the researchers stress that more studies are needed to determine whether it can be transmitted between people.
“At this point, we don’t see any reasons to expect another pandemic from this virus, but I can’t say that’s never going to be a concern in the future,” said Professor Anastasia Vlasova of The Ohio State University.
She conducted the study with Professor Gregory C. Gray at the Duke University School of Medicine, and Professor Teck-Hock Toh of SEGi University in Sarawak, Malaysia.
The study authors emphasize that it is unclear whether the virus can make people sick, noting that it is possible it was merely “carried” in the patient’s airways without causing disease.
“We don’t really have evidence right now that this virus can cause severe illness in adults,” said Professor Vlasova, who noted that only one person in the study found to have been infected with the new coronavirus was an adult.
“I cannot rule out the possibility that at some point this new coronavirus will become a prevalent human pathogen. Once a coronavirus is able to infect a human, all bets are off.”
“If you had mentioned this 20 years ago, that a virus that affects dogs could change to be able to infect people, many would have been skeptical.”
Professor Vlasova added that even though this new coronavirus comes from a dog, it may not be necessary for people to change how they interact with their dogs in light of this study.
“We are likely missing important animal viruses that are beginning to adapt to humans,” said Professor Gray.
“We need to conduct such virus discovery work among people with pneumonia and also among people who have intense exposure to animals so that we get early warning of a new virus which may become a future pandemic virus.”
The study is published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.