‘He Goes Where the Fire Is’: A Virus Hunter in the Wuhan Market
Chris Newman, a wildlife biologist at the University of Oxford and co-author of one of the studies, said his Chinese colleagues saw several wild mammals for sale at the Huanan Market in late 2019. One of them could be responsible for this. for the pandemic, said Dr. Holmes. “You can’t prove the existence of raccoon dogs yet, but they are certainly suspects,” he said. Some critics question how sure Dr. Holmes and his colleagues can be that the Huanan animal is to blame. While many of the earliest cases of Covid were linked to the market, it is possible that other cases of pneumonia have not yet been recognized as early cases of Covid.
“We still know too little about the earliest cases — and there are probably additional cases that we don’t know about — to draw definitive conclusions,” said Philippa Lentsos, a biosafety expert at King’s College London. “I remain open to both natural distribution and scientific origin.”
Another problem: if the infected animals started the pandemic, they would never be found. In January 2020, when researchers from the Chinese CDC arrived at the market to investigate, all the animals had disappeared.
A Virus Hunter in the Wuhan Market
But Dr. Holmes says more than enough evidence that animal markets could trigger another pandemic. Last monthhe and his Chinese colleagues published a study of 18 species of animals that are often sold in markets, either from the wild or from breeding farms.
“They were full of virus,” Dr. Holmes said.
More than 100 viruses affecting vertebrates have been identified, including several potential human pathogens. And some of these viruses have recently crossed the species barrier — avian flu has infected badgers, canine coronaviruses have infected raccoon dogs. Some of the animals were also sick with human viruses.
Dr. Holmes came up with the easiest way to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics. argued is to conduct research like this at the intersection of humans and wildlife. His own experience in discovering new viruses convinced him that there was no point in trying to catalog every potential threat in the wild.
“You can never try every virus and then figure out which one can infect people,” Dr. Holmes said. “I don’t think it’s viable.”