They say the findings, published on Thursday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, highlight the public health threat of animal coronaviruses, and a need to conduct better surveillance for them.
Scientists have detected a new coronavirus in samples isolated from pneumonia patients in Malaysia in 2018. But they are yet to determine if the virus can cause disease, and if it can spread from one human to another.
According to the scientists, a team including those from Duke University School of Medicine in the US, the virus – now named CCoV-HuPn-2018 – jumped from animals to the patients, most likely from dogs.
The samples were taken from patients hospitalised with pneumonia during 2017-18 in Sarawak, Malaysia, most of whom were children living in rural areas with frequent exposure to domesticated animals and wildlife, the study noted.
“Similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus, this novel virus possesses some unique genetic features suggestive of recent zoonotic transmission,” the scientists wrote in the research.
Coronaviruses are a class of RNA viruses that gets its name from the bulbous projections on their surface reminiscent of the aura of plasma around the sun, called the corona.
So far seven coronaviruses have been found to infect humans including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 behind the Covid-19 pandemic.
The others include HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 which cause mild common colds, as well as the more deadly SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.
“If confirmed as a pathogen, it may represent the eighth unique coronavirus known to cause disease in humans,” the scientists wrote in the study.
While the scientists are yet to determine the exact animal host from which the new coronavirus jumped to the patients, based on their genomic analysis of samples they suspect the virus most likely jumped from dogs, or via an intermediate cat-host.
They highlighted that the virus was isolated only from eight of the patients’ airways, and did not cause any disease in them.
While the virus currently does not pose any risk of a pandemic, the researchers called for further studies to investigate the prevalence and disease-causing potential of other similar canine coronaviruses.