RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When viruses jump from animals to humans, they can pose a global threat.
SARS-1, MERS, H1N1, and COVID-19 are all suspected of having started in animals. Some researchers fear it may be becoming more frequent.
“It’s very likely that these viruses are attempting to infect man around the world,” said Professor Gregory Gray, a Duke professor of global health.
While studying the causes of pneumonia with a team in Malaysia, scientists accidentally stumbled upon a new type of coronavirus. The virus was found in just eight of 300 samples. Analyzing the virus samples, it seems the infection may have originated in dogs.
“This finding is remarkable in that it illustrates that there are threats out there we are missing,” said Gray.
Gray said if viruses are lucky, they transfer from animals to humans. If they’re really lucky, they can move from human to human.
“I think the chances of this causing a worldwide illness are very minuscule right now,” Gray said.
That’s partly because his team was able to detect it. Right now, any blood work done when you’re sick isn’t looking for new or unknown viruses. That makes it easier for viruses to spread under the radar.
“We’re not really good at picking these up early. We kind of wait until they cause an epidemic, and then we go, ‘Oh, we have a new virus’,” Gray said.
To pick them up early, he suggests taking samples from people in places where viruses tend to emerge or in places where people are closely interacting with animals. Those samples don’t have to be from people’s blood. He said working with professionals in other industries, samples could be taken from animal fecal matter, water, or even air. Whatever the strategy, it needs to be more efficient than what we have in place now.
“We need to do a better job at conducting surveillance for them so we can be ready to respond more quickly,” said Gray.
Gray said people don’t need to worry about pet dogs in the U.S. passing along a dangerous virus. He said studies still need to be conducted to learn if the virus is present in dogs or any other animal in the area the virus was found.