Researchers have discovered a new coronavirus, found 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 coronavirus could represent the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans.
The discovery also suggests that coronaviruses are more commonly transmitted from animals to humans than previously thought.
“How common this virus is and whether it can be efficiently transmitted from dogs to humans or between humans, no one knows,” said Gregory Gray, M.D., a professor of medicine, global health and environmental health at Duke University.
“More importantly, these coronaviruses are likely to pass from animals to humans much more often than we know,” said Gray, who led the study that appears in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
“We miss them because most hospital diagnostic tests only pick up known human coronaviruses.” Working with visiting scholar Leshan Xiu, a Ph.D. student, Gray was on a team that in 2020 developed a molecular diagnostic tool to detect most coronaviruses in the Coronaviridae family, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
The team used that tool to investigate 301 archived pneumonia cases and recorded signals for coronaviruses in dogs from eight people hospitalized with pneumonia in Sarawak, a state in East Malaysia.
Ohio State researchers, led by Anastasia N. Vlasova, grew a virus from one of the clinical specimens and through a painstaking process of genome reconstruction were able to identify it as a novel coronavirus in dogs.
There are probably multiple coronaviruses in dogs that are circulating and passing into humans that we don’t know about, ”Gray said.
Sarawak could be a rich place to detect them, he said, as it is an equatorial region with rich biodiversity. “A lot of those spillovers are dead ends, they never leave that first human host,” Gray said.
“But if we really want to reduce the threat, we need better surveillance where humans and animals intersect, and among people sick enough to be hospitalized for new viruses.
” Gray said diagnostic tools like the ones developed to find this virus have the potential to identify other viruses that are new to humans before they can cause a pandemic. “These pathogens don’t cause a pandemic overnight,” said Gray.
“It takes many years for them to adapt to the human immune system and cause infection, and then become efficient in human-to-human transmission.
We need to look for these pathogens and detect them early. In addition to Gray and Vlasova, they included Annika Diaz, Teck-Hock Toh, Jeffrey Soon-Yit Lee, and Linda J. Saif.
This work was supported by the US Naval Medical Research Center-Asia, Vysnova Partners, Duke’s Global Health Institute. University and Ohio State University.