Did a new coronavirus go from dog to human?

"We need to look for these pathogens and detect them early," says Gregory Gray. (Credit: Getty Images)

Researchers have discovered a new coronavirus, in a child with pneumonia in Malaysia in 2018, that appears to have jumped from dog to human.

If confirmed as a pathogen, the novel canine-like coronavirus could represent the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans.

“How common this virus is, and whether it can be transmitted efficiently from dogs to humans or between humans, nobody knows,” says Gregory Gray, a professor of medicine, global health, and environmental health at the Duke University and lead author of the paper in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

“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.”

Working with visiting scholar and PhD student Leshan Xiu, Gray was on a team that in 2020 developed a molecular diagnostic tool to detect most coronaviruses from the Coronaviridae family that includes SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

The team used that tool to examine 301 archived pneumonia cases and picked up signals for canine coronaviruses from eight people hospitalized with pneumonia in Sarawak, a state in East Malaysia.

Researchers at Ohio State University, led by Anastasia N. Vlasova, grew a virus from one of the clinical specimens and, through a painstaking process of genome reconstruction, identified it as a novel canine coronavirus.

“There are probably multiple canine coronaviruses circulating and spilling over into humans that we don’t know about,” Gray says. Sarawak could be a rich place to detect them, he says, since it’s an equatorial area with rich biodiversity.

“Many of those spillovers are dead ends, they don’t ever leave that first human host,” Gray says. “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 hospitalized for novel viruses.”

Gray says 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.

“These pathogens don’t just cause a pandemic overnight,” Gray says. “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.”

The US Naval Medical Research Center-Asia, Vysnova Partners, Duke University’s Global Health Institute, and Ohio State University funded the work.

Source: Duke University