Scientists unearth six new coronavirus strains in bats from the same family as Covid 19

SIX new viruses from the same family as the killer coronavirus wreaking a deadly path across the world have been found in BATS.

Researchers unearthed the coronaviruses while studying bats in Myanmar – the first time these viruses have been detected anywhere in the world, say Smithsonian scientists.

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They collected and tested more than 750 saliva and poo samples from bats in areas where humans are more likely to come into close contact with wildlife in Myanmar.

Experts estimate that thousands of coronaviruses – many of which have yet to be discovered – are present in bats.

Researchers tested and compared the bat samples to known coronaviruses and identified six new coronaviruses for the first time, confirmed Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

The team also detected a coronavirus that had been found elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but never before in Myanmar, according to findings published in PLOS ONE.

Coronaviruses have caused widespread disease in humans, including SARS, MERS and most recently the global Covid-19 pandemic, which started in Wuhan, China.

And the broad scientific consensus holds SARS-CoV-2, the virus' official name, originated in bats.

Wildlife vet Marc Valitutto, lead author of the study, said: “Viral pandemics remind us how closely human health is connected to the health of wildlife and the environment.

“Worldwide, humans are interacting with wildlife with increasing frequency.

"So the more we understand about these viruses in animals – what allows them to mutate and how they spread to other species – the better we can reduce their pandemic potential.”

According to the authors, the newly discovered coronaviruses in the Myanmar bats "are not closely related to SARS, MERS or Covid-19".

But, "future studies are needed to evaluate their potential for spillover to other species to better understand the risks to human health".

The authors said their findings highlighted the importance of surveillance for zoonotic diseases – which can transfer from animals to people – as they occur in wildlife.

There are 1.7 million unknown viruses, around half of which could infect people.

It's hoped the results will guide future surveillance of bat populations to better detect potential viral threats to public health, adds the Smithsonian’s Global Health Programme (GHP), which discovered the new coronaviruses in Myanmar's bats.

The programme investigates emerging infectious disease to combat threats to conservation and public health worldwide.

GHP's director, Dr Suzan Murray, last month testified on zoonotic disease transmission before the US House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

She warned: "The next global pandemic is not a matter of if, but when and where.

"To quickly identify and contain such infections, health and disease must be evaluated across species on a global scale."

Dr Murray said that over the last 10 years, "working with partner agencies, we have identified more than 1,200 novel wildlife-borne viruses, 161 of which belong to the same family as the Covid-19 virus".

Scientists "estimate there are 1.7 million unknown viruses, around half of which could infect people, and some lead to new pandemics.

"As of now, there are no co-ordinated programs to work in high risk regions to identify these unknown viruses, get their genetic sequences into our labs, and identify ways to reduce risk of them emerging. 

"Our best defence against spreading diseases that make their way into human populations is through research and education.

"While we cannot stop every disease outbreak, we can reduce their frequency and build the capacity for a rapid global response when they occur," she added.

Did the coronavirus start in a lab?

American spooks reckon the coronavirus likely occurred naturally, as opposed to being created in a laboratory in China.

But there is no certainty either way, the top US general said on Tuesday.

Army General Mark Milley was asked whether he had any evidence that the virus began in a Chinese laboratory and was perhaps released accidentally.

Reuters reported on April 14 that Milley was "non-committal at a Pentagon news briefing".

China has already dismissed as a conspiracy theory that the virus emerged from a lab.

Milley said: "There's a lot of rumour and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc.

"It should be no surprise to you that we've taken a keen interest in that and we've had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that.

"And I would just say, at this point, it's inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural.

"But we don't know for certain."

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian alleged on Twitter last month that the US Army might have "brought the epidemic to Wuhan".

The claim was denounced by the US government and angered President Donald Trump.

America's State Department said at the time that China was seeking to deflect criticism of its role in "starting a global pandemic and not telling the world".

As far back as February, the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology pushed back against rumours that the virus may have been artificially synthesised at one of its laboratories or perhaps got out from there.

A team of 27 scientists published a statement in the Lancet medical journal in February condemning the conspiracy theories.

They said such theories "do nothing but create fear, rumours and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus."

Scientists from around the world "overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife," they added.

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