New data links COVID-19 pandemic's origins to raccoon dogs

New data links COVID-19 pandemic's origins to raccoon dogs
Posted at 4:52 PM, Mar 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-17 16:52:27-04

After three years, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic are becoming a little less mysterious.

After the pandemic began, a global research team started to investigate the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Right now, there are a few hypotheses that have yet to be confirmed.

The main one concerns how the virus first entered the human population — either from a common bat, through an intermediate host or through a leak from a Chinese lab.

But this week, the World Health Organization received data that suggests COVID-19 originated from infected animals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. 

It's information that the WHO says should have been provided three years ago.

"The data, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, relates to samples taken at the Huanan market in Wuhan in 2020. These data could have — and should have — been shared three years ago," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's Director-General.

An international team of scientists found "molecular evidence" that not only confirmed animals were sold at that market, but they also found evidence that some of the animals that were there were susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Some of these animals include raccoon dogs.

If you’re reading this and wondering, "A what?" A raccoon dog is not an actual raccoon but instead a fox-like member of the Canidae family. It's native to East Asia (see picture above for reference).

Unfortunately, the discovery still cannot prove that raccoon dogs or any other animals infected with COVID triggered the pandemic.

"This doesn’t give us the answer of how the pandemic began, but it does provide more clues, and we once again reiterate that there are many more studies that need to be carried out," said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhov, an epidemiologist who serves as the technical lead for the COVID-19 response at the WHO.

Although the data has not been published for the public’s viewing, it was presented to the WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens on Tuesday, and now the WHO is asking China for more transparency.

"We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results," said Dr. Ghebreyesus.

In the meantime, the WHO said on Friday, COVID-19 could settle down this year, posing a similar risk to that of the seasonal flu.