Snakes – the Chinese cobra and the Chinese krait – may be a real cause of the recent outbreak coronavirus that triggered a fatal infectious respiratory disease in China this winter. Bungarus multicincuts (the many-banded krait) also recognized as the Chinese krait or the Taiwanese krait is a highly poisonous species of elapid snake found in much of the southern and central China and Southeast Asia.
Initially, the disease reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, the main city in central China, and is still spreading. Afterwards, sick tourists from Wuhan city infected other people in China and other countries of the world, including the United States. Scientists in China determined the virus’ genetic code after using the samples of the virus taken from the patients and used microscopes to photograph it.
The pathogen responsible for this sickness is the newest coronavirus. It’s from the same viruses’ family as the respiratory syndrome coronavirus of Middle East (MERS-CoV) and the famous severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), that killed several people in the last seventeen years. WHO named the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV.
Scientists gave it a name of coronavirus because of its shape, as it looks like a crown corona when imaged with the help of an electron microscope. The image of an electron microscope shows the crown shape structural details, that’s why it named coronavirus. National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID) says that the particular image is of the respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) of the Middle East.
Coronavirus spread through the air and mainly infects the gastrointestinal tract and the upper respiratory of mammals and birds. However, most of the coronavirus family members only cause minor flu-like symptoms during infection, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV can infect both lower and upper airways and cause serious respiratory illness in humans. The latest 2019-nCoV creates similar symptoms to MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. Patients infected with this type of coronaviruses suffer a response of severe inflammatory.
Unluckily, there is no official vaccine or antiviral treatment available to tackle coronavirus infection. The best understanding of the 2019-nCoV life cycle, including the virus source, how it transmits, and how it reproduces are compulsory for both prevent and treat the disease.
From bats to snakes
The bio-related researchers used a study of the protein codes favourite of the new coronavirus and compared it to the codes of proteins from coronaviruses found in several animal hosts such as snakes, bats, birds, manis, marmots, hedgehogs and humans. Unexpectedly, they found that the codes of the protein in the 2019-nCoV most similar to those used in snakes.
Snakes usually hunt for bats in the wild. Latest reports specify that snakes were sold in the domestic seafood market in Wuhan, raising the opportunity that the 2019-nCoV might jumped from the host species – bats – to – snakes and afterwards to humans at the start of this coronavirus outbreak. Whereas, how the coronavirus could adapt to both warm-blooded and cold-blooded hosts remains a mystery.
The report’s authors, as well as other researchers, must authenticate the source of the virus with the help of laboratory experiments. Searching for the presence of 2019-nCoV sequence in snakes might be the first step to take. Though, since the outbreak of the virus, the market of seafood disinfected and closed, that makes it challenging to trace the source animal of the new virus.