The mysterious, deadly Wuhan coronavirus may have jumped from snakes to humans, scientists say

The mysterious, deadly Wuhan coronavirus may have jumped from snakes to humans, scientists say
Wuhan China Virus

Getty Images


Medical staff transferring patients of teh Wuhan coronavirus to the city's Jinyintan hospital on January 17, 2020.

  • We finally have a bit more information on the mysterious origins of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus, which has killed 17 people.
  • A group of Chinese scientists said in a report on Wednesday that the disease most likely came from a "recombinant virus" between one found in bats and another "origin-unknown one."
  • Specifically, it came from the many-banded krait snake and Chinese cobra, which then transmitted it to humans, the scientists said.
  • The virus has also been traced to a seafood market in Wuhan city, which also sold live animals.
  • Authorities sealed off Wuhan, which is home to 11 million people, on Thursday. A quarantine of such a large city is unprecedented.
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The Wuhan coronavirus, the deadly disease that has killed 17 people in China and spread across the world, may have been created by a "cross-species transmission" from snake to humans, Chinese scientists said in a new report published Wednesday.

Using genetic sequence analysis, the scientists - who come from various Chinese cities, including Wuhan - found the disease appeared to be a "recombinant virus" between a coronavirus found in bats and another "origin-unknown coronavirus."

Upon further study, they found that snakes were the "most probable wildlife animal reservoir," and that the closest matches were found in the Many-banded krait and Chinese cobra, the report said.


These species of snake can be found from the central Hubei province - where Wuhan is located - to Hong Kong, in the country's south, the scientists said.

snake many banded krait

SnakeID TV/YouTube

A many-banded krait snake.

Wednesday's findings appear to be the most comprehensive understanding of the source of the virus, also known as 2019-nCoV, so far.

As of Thursday, the disease has killed 17 people in China and infected at least 571 in the country. The US, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand have also found cases and quarantined people.


One thing that remains unknown, however, is how humans contracted the disease.

The physical structure of the virus had a mysterious protein spike, which likely came from "cross‐species transmission from snake to humans," the scientists said.

Authorities previously linked the disease to a "wet market" in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where live animals were also sold. Officials have since sealed off the market and banned live animal sales.

The scientists also acknowledged the Huanan seafood market as a source of the disease, writing: "Many patients were potentially exposed to wildlife animals at the Huanan seafood wholesale market, where poultry, snake, bats, and other farm animals were also sold."

wuhan wet market

NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images


A woman walks in front of the closed Huanan wholesale seafood market on January 12, 2020.

The Chinese government officially sealed off the entire city of Wuhan on Thursday, leaving residents rushing to grocery stores, but finding many shelves empty of food and raised prices.

The city has a population of 11 million - more than that of New York City - but is an even bigger significant transit hub given its central location in China. Experts have called such a quarantine unprecedented.

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